13-year-olds Dylik Smith and Jalen Parham and their twin friends, Desmond and Deion Woodard, 14, are working this summer doing odd jobs around LeGrange Housing Authority in Georgia. And although it may not seem extraordinary that the teenagers are making some money over the summer, the circumstances under which they were hired make it so.
Since the end of their school year in May, the boys had repeatedly approached LeGrange Housing Authority CEO Zsa Zsa Heard for summer jobs. When they finally managed to set up a time for a meeting, Heard said that she asked them why they wanted to work and expected to hear that they wanted to make some money over the summer.
What she found out at the meeting was unexpected. In a Facebook post, Heard wrote that she asked them why they wanted a job. They told Heard that they didn't want to get involved in gangs and wanted to work to keep out of trouble.
"I never expected the response 'To stay out of trouble and we don't want to be in a gang,'" Heard told A Plus in an email. "I was floored because of their ages. I know gangs are prevalent and children are younger than join, but I was floored to hear them say that so openly to me."
"I hired them on the spot," she wrote on Facebook. "The streets will not have our children!"
Heard then called her maintenance director Earnest Pickett and told him that they had to find these boys work immediately — work that could teach them useful skills.
"The boys have worked in maintenance to assist with inventory, delivering mailings, working in the community garden and taking care of our chickens," Heard said. "The boys have accepted the responsibility of doing anything we ask them to do with no complaining. We were going to purchase picnic tables for the property, but Mr. Pickett purchased materials to teach the boys how to build the table."
Heard also posted photos and videos of the boys working around the compound.
"The boys are doing very well. I meet with them every day for about 30 minutes to teach different lessons, like communication skills, gratitude, signs of gang activity, and they have been writing thank you notes to show appreciation for all the support," Heard said.
And there's more to come for them. Heard said the housing authority officials hop to teach them tennis and martial arts, and to open up their leadership platform so the boys can learn grooming and etiquette skills as well.
"We want the boys to continue to learn and gain skills for a life time. We realize that just getting a job does not provide a complete cure to this problem, but it's a hell of a start," Heard said. "We do not want this to be a Band-Aid fix, we want a cure that is an everlasting cure."
Her original post has been widely shared on Facebook, and many commenters had generous praise for the boys' enthusiasm and for Heard's willingness to help them. "[The positive response] is so awesome because the boys are seeing that they are valuable," Heard said.
View related content from our partners: