Got mowers, rakes, garbage bags, gloves? Erie youth jobs program will take them

·4 min read

Rahmo Abdi recently learned how to operate a gas-powered push mower.

In fact, the 16-year-old Erie High School junior insisted that someone at the nonprofit Urban Erie Community Development Corp. — where Abdi is among several dozen Erie teenagers taking part in a summer jobs program — show her how to operate one.

Students between 14 and 18 years old handle light landscaping and the cleanup of nearby neighborhoods as part of the program.

“Gender equality is important,” Abdi said with a smile shortly before she began mowing a patch of grass adjacent to the UECDC’s headquarters at 2046 E. 19th St. “People need to see girls can do everything the boys can do.

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“This program is good for kids to learn how to do different jobs and to stay out of trouble,” Abdi said. "I like it.”

Gary Horton, the UECDC’s chief executive, said the jobs program needs the public’s help.

UECDC is seeking donations of equipment and supplies to help students taking part in the program, which is funded by $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 get some more," Horton said. "We don't have enough equipment and supplies for all of the kids."

Horton said “gently-used lawnmowers,” as well as rakes, shovels, hedge trimmers, garbage bags and gloves are among the equipment and supplies needed.

The UECDC has six push mowers and two riding mowers as well as two weed trimmers. That equipment was purchased with previous grant funds. Horton said UECDC could also use help purchasing gasoline for lawn mowers and other equipment.

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The young workers, many of whom are new Americans and students of color, are paid $10 an hour.

The teenagers mow grass, trim weeds, pick up garbage and perform other tasks throughout the neighborhood, working up to 20 hours per week.

Horton said the students also take care of property owned by UECDC, including Savocchio Park near East 16th Street and Downing Avenue; the nearby John F. Kennedy Center at 2021 E. 20th St.; or vacant lots that the Erie Redevelopment Authority oversees.

Any individual or organization willing to help out the program can call 814-899-3904 or 814-490-9669, or e-mail Horton at gnealh@gmail.com.

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“For many of these kids, it’s their first job. And they’re good kids who want to work, they value working 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 commit more resources and money toward youth development efforts that promote empowerment, self-esteem, job training and other positives, to steer young people away from crime and negative behaviors.

Horton said the UECDC's jobs program is an example of that.

“There’s a narrative out there that there’s not enough ‘good kids’ in Erie,” Horton said. “Well, here they are. I’ve got plenty of them. And they need some help.”

Gary Horton, chief executive of the Urban Erie Community Development Corp.
Gary Horton, chief executive of the Urban Erie Community Development Corp.

Sivike Irishura, 17, said he trims weeds and does other work to help provide for his family. Irishura, who will be a senior at Erie High in the fall, also works at a fast-food restaurant.

"It helps my mom. It helps with the bills," Irishura said. "I'm trying to do positive out here. I had two friends who died last year. One got shot and one died in a car accident. I want to stay on a good path."

Ismael Al-Jallad, 15, attends Erie's Charter School of Excellence.

Mowing vacant lots, cleaning up trash and other tasks "is better than sitting at home doing nothing and playing video games," he said. "And I mow the grass sometimes at home, so this helps me do a better job at my house."

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 many employers wont take a chance on them," Horton said. "We're teaching them to sign in, be responsible, not be on their phones and do the work. Every day it's reinforced that people are watching them, so work hard and be a good example."

Contact Kevin Flowers at kflowers@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ETNflowers.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: 'Good kids' in Erie are cleaning up neighborhoods. They need your help