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Teen-Agers Learn Work Ethic While Helping to Clear Hillsides : Jobs: Sixty low-income or at-risk youths earn the minimum wage while removing weeds and brush in a program run by the school district.

August 06, 1992|VIKEN BERBERIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — Omar Bardumyan could have spent his entire summer soaking sun at the beach.

Instead, he is pulling weeds as part of job program for young people. Since mid-July and continuing till Aug. 27, Bardumyan and 59 other students from Toll and Roosevelt junior high schools are helping the city meet its hillside fire-prevention goals.

The project, which has received kudos and cash from an array of private and public sources, targets teen-agers who are from low-income families or who are considered at risk of getting into trouble with the law. Some were involved in gangs; others had nothing more planned for the summer than milling around the mall.

But when the teen-agers agreed to join the program last month, they assumed a new set of values.

Armed with gardening tools, they spend four days a week removing brush from city lots. Their efforts help the Glendale Fire Department abate the hillside fire hazard. In return, they are paid minimum wage, $4.25 an hour.

"This is my first job," said Bardumyan, 14. "You feel secure. It's your money. You can spend it on anything you like."

Monday through Thursday, he walks to Roosevelt Junior High, where participants have lunch before boarding a bus at 1 p.m. for the day's three work sites. At 5 p.m. the bus returns the teen-agers to Roosevelt.

"This is not something that the (Boy) Scouts can give them," said Jerry Watson, who oversees the project for the Glendale Unified School District. "These kids don't want to go camping. They just don't want to help ladies across the street. But those old, corny values are just as valid today as they were in the past. It's just more difficult to sell them."

To entice the boys--and six girls--Watson merely updated his selling points.

"I have them organized like a gang," he said. "The coach of the team is a former gang member, and he serves as a positive role model for the junior high kids."

Francisco Herrera, a Glendale High School student, leads one of the 15-member crews. Wearing a Dallas Mavericks cap--Watson bans Raiders emblems worn by gangs--he makes sure the students are in line.

"I have two cousins," Herrera said. "One is in San Salvador because too many people were after him. The other dropped out of school. He doesn't have a life. I don't want that. I want something in life that people will later respect."

The students were trained by the city's Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. Home Depot, a do-it-yourself home improvement store, donated some of the tools.

Although the city has long had youth programs, this is the first in which the city, the school district and the private sector all participated, City Manager David Ramsay said.

"The city is committed to the prevention of hillside fires," Ramsay said. "At the same time, we feel that the Los Angeles riots were a lesson to be learned by all of us and that we need to take a more proactive position when it comes to our youth."

Funding comes from a $40,000 federal job-training grant, $22,000 from the city's general fund and private pledges of more than $11,000. Some local restaurants contribute free meals to the youths during their workweek.

Despite this broad-based effort, the program turned down more than 40 students because of limited funding.

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