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WATTS : Job Skills Bloom at Garden Project


The small plot of land that abuts the parking lot at the Watts Towers Art Center looks like an ordinary garden, but for about two dozen students the Metamorphosis Organic Garden is a chance at a job.

"It's pretty cool," said Alex Burgara, a student at John Hope Continuation School in Watts, during a ground-blessing ceremony at the garden last week. "I don't want to gangbang and I like gardening, and I'm learning something."

Organizers of the Metamorphosis Garden, an 18-month program aimed at teaching teen-agers organic gardening skills, acknowledge the program can do little to stop inner-city violence. But they said the program offers students the chance to do something positive.

"We just want to get them hooked back into the life principles instead of death principles," said George Singleton, a member of Hope L.A. Horticulture Corps.

Students from area schools who take part in the project receive a stipend of $5 to $9 an hour, Singleton said. They must remain in school and commit to working at the garden on a regular basis. In exchange, the students learn landscaping, gardening and bookkeeping skills, and can take part in a six- to eight-week class preparing them for the city's civil service exam.

The program is sponsored by the city Department of Water and Power, Hope L.A. Horticulture Corps and Los Angeles Beautiful.

The DWP also will help students sell their harvest at a local farmer's market, said Norm Buehring, assistant chief engineer at the DWP.

Burgara, 18, said he isn't sure he will take the civil service exam, but for now he and his family are happy with the program.

"My family calls me the gardener," he said. "I've been planting beds in the yard, and I planted a tree in the back yard, and it's all 'cause of what I learned here."

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