Rahmo Abdi recently learned how to use a petrol lawn mower.
In fact, the 16-year-old Erie High School junior insisted that someone from the nonprofit Urban Erie Community Development Corp. — where Abdi is one of several dozen Erie teenagers participating in a summer jobs program — shows him how to handle one.
Students aged 14 to 18 do light landscaping and cleanup of nearby neighborhoods as part of the program.
“Gender equality is important,” Abdi said with a smile shortly before starting to mow a patch of grass adjacent to the UECDC headquarters at 2046 E. 19th St. “People need to see girls can do anything boys can do.
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“This program is good for children to learn how to do different jobs and stay out of trouble,” Abdi said. “I like it.”
Gary Horton, chief executive of the UECDC, said the jobs program needed the public’s help.
UECDC is seeking donations of equipment and supplies to help students participate in the program, which is funded with $150,000 from the City of Erie and $50,000 from the Erie School District.
About 80 students are enrolled in the jobs program, Horton said, “and I have a waiting list. I know I’m going to have more,” Horton said. “We don’t have enough equipment and supplies for all the kids.”
Horton said “moderate-duty lawn mowers,” along with rakes, shovels, hedge trimmers, garbage bags and gloves are among the equipment and supplies needed.
The UECDC has six push mowers and two ride-on mowers as well as two weed trimmers. This equipment was purchased with previous grant funds. Horton said the UECDC could also use help to buy gasoline for lawnmowers and other equipment.
Young workers, many of whom are New Americans and students of color, are paid $10 an hour.
The teens mow grass, cut weeds, pick up trash and do other chores throughout the neighborhood, working up to 20 hours a week.
Horton said the students also tend to UECDC-owned properties, including Savocchio Park near East 16th Street and Downing Avenue; the nearby John F. Kennedy Center at 2021 E. 20th St.; or vacant land overseen by the Erie Redevelopment Authority.
Anyone or organization wishing to help the program can call 814-899-3904 or 814-490-9669, or email Horton at [email protected]
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“For many of these children, this is their first job. And they’re good kids who want to work, they enjoy the work and want to help out in the community,” Horton said, adding that the program’s budget “is pretty much all for payroll.”
In recent months, Horton has urged city officials and other local agencies to devote more resources and money to youth development efforts that promote empowerment, self-esteem, skills training and life skills. other positive aspects, in order to keep young people away from crime and negative behaviour.
Horton said the UECDC jobs program is an example.
“There’s a narrative out there that there aren’t enough ‘good kids’ in Erie,” Horton said. “Well, here they are. I have plenty of them. And they need help.
Sivike Irishura, 17, said he trims weeds and does other work to support his family. Irishura, who will be a senior at Erie High in the fall, also works at a fast food restaurant.
“It helps my mum. It helps with the bills,” Irishura said. “I try to be positive here. I had two friends who died last year. One was shot and the other died in a car accident. I want to stay on the good way.”
Ismael Al-Jallad, 15, attends the Charter School of Excellence in Erie.
Mowing vacant lots, cleaning up trash and other chores “is better than sitting at home doing nothing and playing video games,” he said. “And I sometimes mow the grass at home, so that helps me do a better job at home.”
Horton said any donations would be appreciated.
“A lot of these kids won’t work if we don’t have a program like this because a lot of employers won’t take a chance,” Horton said. “We teach them to connect, to be responsible, to get off the phone and get the job done. Every day it’s reinforced that people are watching them, so work hard and be a good example.”