Monica Collier, 15, who says she feels destined for movie stardom, danced and sang her way through the summer with a local theatrical troupe. Elaine Grasty, another 15-year-old who yearns to teach, tutored sixth graders in reading and mathematics. Gregg Smith, 14, who dreams of playing professional football, settled for a job sweeping school hallways.
They are among the more than 23,000 youths who were employed this summer through the District's Youth Employment Program, which provided work experience and training for residents between the ages of 14 and 21.
"It gave me training," said Collier, one of more than 900 students hired by Arts D.C., a nonprofit employment placement agency for the arts. "I learned a lot about acting techniques, voice control and dance techniques."
Every youth who signed up for a summer job was hired by the city, a nonprofit organization or a private firm and worked in such wide-ranging jobs as lifeguard, library assistant, computer aide and carpenters' helper, District officials say.
Under the program -- the third largest of its kind in the nation behind New York City and Chicago -- youngsters were paid the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour for 20 to 40 hours a week. The program, which was funded by the District and the federal government at a cost of $15.5 million, ran from July 1 through Aug. 16.
Some youths complained that the city was late in issuing pay checks, and others said they were not assigned to the jobs they requested. Tempers flared into scuffles at a few work sites, while at other sites boredom reigned because there was not enough work to fill the hours.
Matthew F. Shannon, director of the Department of Employment Services, which oversees the summer youth program, said that for the most part the program ran smoothly and that late checks are "not an unusual occurrence" for so large a work force and "should not be characterized as a problem."
Shannon said most of the delays were caused by last-minute transfer of some youths from one site to another and delays in submitting payrolls and time sheets. He said there were more than 500 reports of late payment during the first pay period but that the number of reports was down to about 100 by the final pay period. Most of the late checks were delivered within a day of the regular payday, according to Shannon.
Despite the hitches, Mayor Marion Barry declared the program a success during a rally marking the close of the program Aug. 16 at the Washington Convention Center. He said the program fulfilled his promise to provide a summer job for every District youth who wanted one. Barry said it proved to be "a real help to the city as well."
Some of that "real help" is visible at hundreds of intersections throughout the city, where nearly 600 worn stop signs were replaced with the assistance of 25 youths in the program who worked for the D.C. Department of Public Works.
Edwina Wilder, 16, of Southeast Washington, said that working with the traffic signs crew was a far cry from her interest in becoming a pediatrician. She noted, however, that the job helped her to save money for college and taught her some practical lessons about "the working world."
"It taught me that there's always going to be someone over your head saying he's the boss," said Wilder with a grin.
A college student who was hired to help monitor the program and who visited numerous work sites concluded that the city needs to take greater care in placing young people in jobs.
"When an employer asks for a clerk or receptionist and it turns out [the student] can't type, then you have a bad work situation for both," said the monitor, who declined to be identified. "A lot of the supervisors have said they don't want to baby-sit."
But many youths said they were happy with their placements, including Gregg Smith, who worked as a janitor at Anacostia High School. He said he had hoped for an office job, but ended up enjoying all but one aspect of his maintenance duties.
"I hated sweeping the halls," said Smith, adding that the situation was not helped by summer school students who taunted him by tossing trash in the hallways.
Elaine Grasty, who tutored sixth graders at Wilkinson Elementary School, called her summer duties a privilege. "I always wanted to be a tutor," Grasty said. "I feel good about [having done] it."