There was excitement, there was ceremony and there were a few kinks yet to be worked out yesterday as thousands of youngsters reported to their first day of work with the city's Summer Youth Employment Program.
A smiling Casey Green, 16, hunkered down to hard sweeping at the Valley Green Apartments housing project. Over at the Eastgate Gardens complex an hour later, 17-year-old Michelle Walker seemed less pleased. She had shown up for work in high heels and a pretty dress and was instructed to rake debris. Walker thought she was supposed to be a clerk-typist.
Working next to her was another "clerk-typist" with a rake, 16-year-old Keith Childs. Childs nodded in the direction of Mayor Marion Barry, who was raking furiously a few yards away, and said, "They booby-trapped me. Marion Barry, he got booby-trapped, too. He thought he was the mayor."
The mayor's kickoff of the summer jobs program was a clamorous occasion as young workers found themselves shovel-to-shovel with top city officials who donned T-shirts and new work gloves for the ceremonial affair at the two housing projects, both located in Southeast Washington.
More than 23,000 youths, aged 14 to 21, are expected to take part in the summer jobs program, which is second in size only to New York City's program. Most of the jobs, which pay the federal minimum wage of $3.35 an hour, are funded by the federal and D.C. governments and nonprofit organizations.
Private area firms hired about 1,300 youths in the program -- about twice the number they hired a year ago but not nearly enough to satisfy the mayor.
"We are going to continue to press them," Barry said during a press conference at Eastgate Gardens. "This is their community, their city and this is their responsibility, too. The government cannot do it all."
Throughout the morning, the mayor concentrated his remarks on jobs for young people, but a host of other social problems swirled about him in the questions of residents who were attracted to the noisy event.
"What are you going to do about drugs?" said one woman. "Can I get a job?" asked an adult man. "Can you clean up the inside after you're done with the outside?" a woman at Eastgate Gardens wanted to know.
Mary Fogg, a resident of Valley Green, gave the mayor a large squash she had grown in her vegetable garden. The mayor ordered an aide to take down her name. Later she explained, "I just wanted to be on TV with my squash."
The young people in the groundskeeping and maintenance crews expressed satisfaction that they had received jobs for the summer while those who were too young to participate clustered around the mayor, who peppered them with questions and injunctions to work hard in school.
"How old are you?" Barry asked pint-sized Alfred Gibson.
"Where do you go to school?"
"Making all As?"
"I bet you watch too much television," the mayor observed. "They ought to take all the TVs out of this place . . . That's the most dangerous instrument in America, worse than the B1 bomber."
Working with Barry as he swept up the parking lot at Eastgate was Matthew F. Shannon, director of the Department of Employment Services, who said the summer jobs program was off to a good start in spite of a few bugs that needed ironing out.
Meanwhile, the importance of a summer job was evident in the face of glum-looking Ivan Ross, a 15-year-old Eastgate resident who didn't have one but said he had applied for the mayor's program. Shannon's aides took his name and said they'd try to help.
A job, said the youngster, is "very important. That's the only way you're going to get ahead in life . . . I want to be a computer operator."