A group of District youngsters is hoping to prove that adults are not the only people who can be role models. By taking a little initiative and dunking a little litter, they intend to do just that.
They are part of the city's new Youth Litter Patrol, aimed at reducing trash in the District while learning about the environment. More than 500 District young people 14 and older will participate in the new program to monitor and clean the city's 100 recreation centers and playground sites.
Patrols of five young people per center, all part of the Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program and clad in T-shirts and hats, will be responsible for picking up trash daily, then attending a weekly class to learn about environmental problems related to litter and its byproducts.
Donald Epps, 17, said he thinks adults will stop littering once they see kids picking up the trash. "I think D.C. will look 50 percent better by the end of the summer," he said.
With a Youth Litter Patrol rap song, soon to hit local radio stations and sung by area youths, and a slam dunk of litter by former Washington Bullets player Wes Unseld, recreation officials opened the program Tuesday at the Benning-Stoddert Recreation Center in Southeast.
"If you see some litter, dunk it in. Hey, that's how I got started. And think of me when you're doing it, because I can't do it anymore," Unseld said.
Linda Boyd, spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation, said the program, sponsored by the recreation department and the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co., may help to establish work habits, self-esteem and pride.
"If you live in a dirty, unclean neighborhood, that says something about us. This represents you. Your neighborhood represents you. We are hoping for some kind of subliminal effect on community pride," she said, adding that family and community members will be encouraged to participate in the program through gatherings and cleanup parties.
Recreation officials sponsored a citywide slogan contest for the program and selected "Do Drop In" from 10-year-old Michael Blackwell of the Trinidad Recreation Center as the winning entry. Second place went to Takina Prince, 10, of Cooper Recreation Center, whose slogan was "Feed the Needy, Don't be Greedy."
William B. Johnson, director of the D.C. Department of Recreation, said he hopes the program "will serve as a model program for other cities throughout the nation. We want the young people involved in the Youth Litter Patrol to understand the importance of protecting the environment in which we live."
Boyd said that during the summer, the program will have a speakers bureau, a group of young people from the patrol who will go to city recreation centers to talk to other young people about the effects of litter and the importance of cleaning it up. The idea is to promote the concept that living healthy and clean makes one a better person, she said.
"It's not just picking up trash. We have just got to start instilling this in our kids," she said.