Patricia Stephens stood on a sidewalk next to the public housing complex in Marshall Heights in Southeast Washington where she has lived since 1967, while about 15 giggling youngsters handling brooms and rakes swarmed about her yesterday morning.

"Now pick up some trash, get to work," Stephens yelled at the young Eastgate Gardens residents who put in three hours cleaning up the walkways and lawns near their homes.

"They love it. They love the work, too," Stephens said of the children in the brand new T-shirts reading: "Resident Council/Operation Take Care."

Stephens said the complex has never been uncommonly dirty because residents always have tried to keep the neighborhood tidy, but that yesterday's city public housing office-sponsored venture should help the neighborhood where she grew up.

"I love this area. I love this part of D.C., no matter what . . . . That's why I'm still out here. We live in a community, not a project," Stephens said before returning her attention to the kids. "Don't worry about the grass. Just pick up the papers."

Alphonso Jackson was among those pitching in yesterday. Jackson is the District's acting deputy director of public housing who has been tapped by the mayor to head a new agency, the D.C. Department of Public and Assisted Housing.

He has taken rake to hand in public housing projects throughout the city for the last six weeks as part of "Operation Take Care," which he said is just one part of a resident-government partnership that will make public housing in the capital a "model" for the nation.

Jackson, Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) each helped residents clean the grounds of Eastgate Gardens -- an aggregation of pink and yellow cinder block houses off Benning Road bounded by F, Fitch and 51st streets and Drake Place SE. At the complex yesterday, laundry dried under a clear sky, grievances were aired and some trash was picked up.

The message for tenants in the exercise, Jackson said, is: "We care about you, you care about us.

"It's really about a sense of community. What's happened for so long {is that public housing residents} have not felt that their voice has been heard. We're going to train the residents. They've never been trained . . . about what's expected when they move into public housing."

Barry donned a T-shirt when he arrived about 11 a.m. Then, Pied Piper style, he led about 70 people, most of them children, down the terraced hillside where the housing complex sits. There they tugged with rakes at dying grass behind a block of homes.

"Y'all should be out here helping out," Barry called to two residents watching from inside a house. When the reply came that "we're working in here," the mayor said: "That's a start."

A start -- toward getting a job, getting a broken appliance repaired or getting compensation for an injury received while working for the city -- was what the mayor offered residents who asked for his attention.

"I need a j-o-b," Yodie Baker, 24, called to the mayor at one point.

"What kind of work can you do?" Barry asked. "How far did you go in school? It's hard out here if you don't have skills," he told Baker, who left school in the 11th grade. Barry told Baker about the city's job center at 25 K St. NE. "I never heard about it," she said. Barry later said, "I'm going to check Monday to see if you've been over there."

"It's good to have these young people involved," the mayor said later. "Al {Jackson} and I have the same philosophy . . . {we} should have the residents involved all the way."

Jackson, who fielded requests and complaints about housing conditions at Eastgate all morning with a smile, was told by Marvin Clark, 28, that, sure, the area was getting an outside cleaning but "will the problems be fixed on the inside?"

"Absolutely," Jackson said, adding that "if we were not here this morning, you would think we didn't care." Clark readily agreed.

Later Clark said, "I'd like to know the reasons they've shown up today when the community has been hurting for 20 years. How many people have been {public housing director} before Mr. Jackson?"

But, he said, "If Mr. Jackson is the man that's appointed for the job and if he feels he can work better ways for this community, I will support him 100 percent. If he knocks on my door, I'll support him 100 percent. I'm one of the ones who can help him make it a better community."

Eastgate Gardens is scheduled for extensive renovation in 1989 but yesterday, Ivory Walters, president of the resident council there, led Jackson around pointing out problem spots -- a gaping, grass- and concrete-filled sidewalk hole; broken light towers on the playground, and a recreation center that needs an addition.

She said the houses at Eastgate have between three and six bedrooms and the community is beset by lack of space. "Each {house} is supposed to have two {people} to a bedroom, so you know how crowded we are here. We've got a whole lot of children."

"This is it," Walters said, referring to the conditions. "We can control the rest of it, {but city help is needed for} things we can't do ourselves. But we do the best we can."