What: Alton Park Development Corporation
Who: Tweens and teens (youths age 12-15) looking for yard work this summer
Where: Southside Family Reunion at Harris Johnson Park, 41 W. 28th St.
When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Donated lawn equipment may be brought to the Piney Woods Family Resource Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday.
To help: Donors may call 423-760-0378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A local dentist set out to find 150 summer jobs for at-risk youth. So far she's found 125, and she's still trying. Now she also is focusing on finding jobs for 12- to 15-year-olds who are not old enough for the workforce.
With guidance from Dr. Elenora Woods, executive director of the Alton Park Development Corp., more than 100 tweens and teens are asking people to hire them to cut yards, plant flowers or pick up trash this summer.
Woods wants to protect children and young teens from violence and push them out of poverty.
"Gangs have been able to lure our kids into their organization because we have not had a real economic development program, one that works," she said.
Her group will be at the Southside Family Reunion on Saturday to find people who need yard work or simple tasks done and are willing to pay the teens at least $10 to do it.
The tweens and teens are also scouting for adult volunteers willing to supervise and mentor them. Donated lawn mowers and string trimmers are needed as well.
The youth keep all money that they earn, Woods said.
Bank of America is the only corporate funder so far for the youth program.
Woods is asking churches to donate $100 to the youth. She also asked the city for community development block grant funds to support her efforts. That money would be used to pay youth workers stipends and the program staff.
Woods and program volunteers have pitched in personal funds. The group also is planning fish fries and yard sales to raise money.
The goal is to give each of the 130 youths ages 12 to 15 a $500 stipend when the work program ends in August.
For teens 16 and older, the biggest obstacle to getting jobs is transportation, Woods said. She said she is trying to find more jobs closer to the communities where program participants live.
Dozens of young people have been gathering at Piney Woods Resource Center since the end of May to practice interviewing for a job and writing resumes.
Twelve-year-old Elnaya Garrett said she attends because she wants to "do something with my life."
"I'm a good worker," said Elnaya, who wants a job doing yard work. "I can work fast, as quick as you need it."
Fifteen-year-old Cordelllius Birdsong, who wants eventually to enlist in the U.S. Marines, said the work program keeps him out of trouble.
"Mom signed me up," he said, "so I won't be in the streets."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423 757-6431.