Youth Provide Seniors Free Lawn Service

Michael P. Moss | 8/20/2009, 1:31 a.m.

The young men went about their work with quiet dignity. On a humid August morning, they seemed content. Dressed in canary yellow €emergency€ vests and grey €bucket€ hats, one even donned sunglasses, yet there was no hint of the troubled pasts that brought them there; just the promise, perhaps, of a better, brighter, future. Just kids cutting grass.

Those €kids€ are residents of the New Beginnings Youth Detention Center in Laurel, Md., and participants in a Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services€ (DYRS) summer jobs program that offers free lawn service once a month to Ward 5 residents 65 years of age and older. And on Fri., Aug. 7, they landscaped the lawn of 109-year-old Eddye L. Williams€"the District€s oldest living resident.

Soon, they will leave New Beginnings and start new lives. James, 18, said that he will be released in less than a month.

€I caused a lot of trouble in the community.€ He added, €Now I want to give something back.€

Nate, also 18, is going home sooner. He said that he plans to go to school to become an electrician. €I€m just glad to be able to do some good in the community,€ he said. €I especially like helping people like Miss Williams.€

By the time the two young men left the property, Williams€ yard was perfectly manicured. They mowed the overgrown lawn and removed the troublesome weeds.

From her wheelchair, Williams said that she was thrilled by all the attention.

€I€m so happy I almost don€t know what to do,€ she said. €I want to thank these young people. They€re angels. God bless them,€ she said. That€s exactly what Carl Matthews, the DYRS Equipment Operator and 21-year District employee who conceived the program, hoped to hear.

€The purpose is to bring the kids and seniors together,€ he said. €Many of these seniors out here are afraid of them. This way, they get to see the kids giving instead of taking. It€s all about healing.€ The idea for the program originated as a result of Matthews€ checkered past.

€My path was similar to the one these kids have traveled,€ he said. €I was locked up for a lot of years, so I understand where they are and where they€ve been,€ he added. €I€m grateful the agency supported me. This is much bigger than just some government invention.€

Williams€ home occupies the corner lot in a row of neat, semi-detached, single-family residences on Montana Avenue in Northeast. Directly across the street sit the €garden apartments€ of Montana Terrace, an aging and notorious housing complex. Matthews, a resident of Ward 5, said that he knows Williams personally. It was at his suggestion that New Beginnings landscaped her lawn.

€I saw the shape her yard was in and thought €what a shame,€€ Matthews said. €She€s such a sweet lady€"an icon in the community.€

As a young man, Matthews, 58, said he mowed lawns to earn extra money.

€This is a big step for these kids,€ he said. €It€s not just about them getting off [the grounds of New Beginnings] it€s teaching them about the responsibility that comes with doing a job. What€s important is they understand there€s nothing like an honest day€s work to build character,€ he said.

€That€s what I had to learn. It could be anything€"not just lawn service€"as long as you€ve worked for it.€

DYRS Director Vincent Shiraldi watched as James and Nate performed their tasks.

€Many of our youth lack the opportunity to participate in the kinds of positive activities most kids consider routine,€ Shiraldi said.

€We are trying to do things so they feel connected to the community,€ he said. €The more connected they feel, the more likely they are to become productive citizens who contribute to society. What€s actually missing is a sense of trust between the kids and the community. Our hope is to establish that relationship of trust.€

DYRS opened New Beginnings in May to replace the outdated Oak Hill Youth Center facility.