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Summer blues

Some city kids still searching for something to do

(Published July 12, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

Eleven-year-old Andrew Wright and his friends so far have spent most of their summer wandering through the hot asphalt pavement of the shopping center in Edgewood near their homes, hoping to make some money.

Some days, they are lucky ó- they get a dollar for taking out somebodyís trash or helping people load groceries at the Safeway. But other days they just wander, with little to do but avoid the security guards and ask for free cups of ice water from McDonaldís.

Finding constructive summer activities for the Districtís more than 70,000 school-aged children is a problem every year. But with 13,000 fewer children in summer school than expected, and the program running only half a day, this summer may be worse.

Summerworks, the Districtís annual summer youth employment program, has registered about 8,000 young people aged 14 to 21 for a five-week program, said spokesman Jennifer Smith of the Department of Employment Services. Thatís far more than the department hoped for and no one who registered in time was turned away.

But that doesnít help Andrew and his friends. Theyíre too young to work.

So far, Andrew and his friends havenít had many problems, other than the occasional fight with other neighborhood kids. But other young people havenít been so lucky.

Security officer Ralph Prillaman Jr. said he recently caught four children ó ages 11, 12 and 13 ó shoplifting from the Ames store at the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center. They were wearing about $200 worth of clothing with tags still on, stolen from a mall in Maryland, Prillaman said.

"There are more problems now than ever," he said. "It gets worse every year."

Capt. Lisa Harvey of American Protection Agency, who also guards the shopping center and is the mother of an 11-year-old, said she recently found a 6-year-old boy who escaped from a neighborhood day camp handing out fliers for a nearby store for $2.

"Iím afraid my son is going to get into trouble," said Dessa Jackson, who said her 13-year-old son Antonio is too young to work legally and too old for day camp. While she works, Antonio hangs out at the basketball court with the older boys from the public housing complex where they live, she said. "These kids donít have anything to do."

And Andrewís 15-year-old sister Javilla, who is desperate for a summer job, said she hadnít heard anything about Summerworks at the charter school she attends.

Former mayor Marion Barry made the program a hallmark of his administration, announcing it at nearly every press conference and community event. This year the program was advertised on radio and in newspapers, but Mayor Anthony A. Williams rarely if ever mentioned the program in public.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator