Pearlie McDaniel of Howard University Hospital, who has been supervising 60 to 80 youngsters in the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program every year since 1979, remembers the time she ordered a 20-year-old participant to go home and change from the purple terrycloth sweatsuit she wore on her first day of work into attire more suitable for a professional working environment.

The woman left and returned wearing a pair of short shorts.

"I told her to just go back home and stay," said McDaniel, the hospital's no-nonsense coordinator of community resources.

On Monday, the official start of this summer's program, one girl who had been assigned to the hospital to transport patients in wheelchairs for X-rays showed up six months pregnant and had to be assigned to a less taxing job. She came dressed in shorts was told she would not be working that day because of her outfit. Other teenagers wore T-shirts, sweatpants and other sporty street clothes.

McDaniel took time out the first day to describe to the youngsters what is appropriate garb for work. She also spent much of the morning focusing on getting the youngsters to complete the forms they needed to get paid.

"They don't know what complete means, some of them," McDaniel sighed, shaking her head. "It irritates me and it also hurts to see our 16-year-olds who don't take the time to read."

Such is the frustration of supervising a jobs program for city youngsters, many of whom have limited education and life skills, few positive professional role models to mimic and scant understanding of what it takes to hold a job.

The challenge is daunting but rewarding, according to Sherri Kittrell, director of the Fort Lincoln Recreation Center, at 31st Street and Fort Lincoln Road NE.

"I had a young man yesterday {the first day} who was just shucking and jiving," she said. "He wasn't interested. But then he saw the type of things that we do. This morning he came in {early}, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."

Lloyd Davis, who for years has hired youths to work in handicapped programs at the D.C. Therapeutic Pool on G Street SE, said his biggest frustration is when he can't reach some of them. Over the years, he has had some who wanted to show up just for their paychecks. He let them go.

"Their mouths were stuck out, and they wouldn't do the work," he said. "I've had other youths that were always sleepy on the job. I found out that they had stayed up all night running in the streets."

Nevertheless, this year he asked for 15 more. Most "will do whatever you ask them to do. Most of them are coming because they feel good that they are earning a check . . . . It's not that they don't want to learn, they're not sure they can do it," he said.

McDaniel said she counsels the young people not to worry about who is doing what. She tells them housekeeping and other menial tasks are worthwhile labor and good learning experiences.

"Our kids don't have an appreciation for that kind of work. They say that's all the white man wants them to do," McDaniel said. "For the limited skills that some of them have . . . that's all they can do."

Rick Sowell, the executive director of the Crispus Attucks Museum and Park of the Arts in Bloomingdale, said attitude problems are to be expected with youngsters. He asked for 50 this summer.

"Most kids come with some baggage. They're not prepared to hold down a steady job. And if they are, they are looking for big money -- not starter salaries," said Sowell, who said he works with at-risk youngsters. "I have a bad attitude. It's kind of hard for somebody to out-attitude me."

This week the big lesson for many was just getting there.

Davis said none of the 15 workers he requested were there at the start of the workday Monday, and that's par for the course.

"We usually don't see any of them until about Thursday," he said.

Still, some say it's worth it.

"We always have more work than staff," said Warren Eisenhower, personnel director for Metro. "It's a real asset to have these kids come in and help out."