About 13,500 District teenagers fanned out across the city to work sites in the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program Monday, the first day of a seven-week guaranteed jobs program that this year will cost about $12 million, officials said.
For many, the first day on the job offered the typical intimidating moments: meeting a new boss and getting around a strange workplace. But for others, the day was like a tumultuous trip to the zoo.
Take India Morgan, for instance. Monday morning the 17-year-old left her home in Anacostia at 8 a.m. and got on the wrong bus, only to wind up at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. She had to grab a cab to arrive on time at her summer job near the Lincoln Memorial, where she was greeted by her companions for the summer -- 12 horses.
The animals are U.S. Park Police patrol horses, and Morgan's job is to make sure they are clean, fed and ready to patrol Washington streets during the busy summer season.
Morgan's teenage co-worker never arrived. "We're not expecting her because she's expecting" and will be reassigned to an office job, said U.S. Park Police Officer Tony Taylor.
Going it alone didn't seem to faze Morgan, a rising junior at Ballou High School. "I've always wanted to have a farm, and I thought working with horses would be the closest thing to it."
For the young urban woman, the experience will indeed have a rural flavor. Weekday mornings for the next seven weeks she will trade her city clothes for work garb at the stables to "muck out" the stalls, polite words for shoveling and disposing of horse manure.
"My sisters laughed at me," Morgan said. "They were like, 'You're going to be cleaning out horse stuff?' "
Morgan will also brush the horses, bathe them, put on their saddles and bridles and lead them around a small enclosure for exercises. For Morgan, the job is ideal.
She hopes one day to be a veterinarian. Growing up, she had many pets -- dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, gerbils and a lizard "that didn't live too long."
It wasn't much preparation for her first encounter Monday with Rusty, a 15-year-old reddish-brown thoroughbred that Taylor described as the "one biter" among the 12.
Morgan gingerly unhitched Rusty and led him to the exercise area while Taylor called out warnings.
"Watch your feet.
"He's going to fight the flies."
"For me, always wanting to have a horse, this is the next best thing -- especially because it doesn't have to go home with me," said Morgan, who lives in an apartment on Stanton Road SE. "I don't think they would let it in the building."
Across town, another work site was teeming with activity. Purple construction-paper letters leading visitors to the basement of the Fort Lincoln School in Northeast read, "Welcome to the Fort Lincoln Recreation Center." But director Sherri Kittrell had a different greeting.
"Welcome to the Fort Lincoln Zoo," she said.
Six youths had been assigned jobs as day camp counselors at the school gymnasium, which was shaking with sound: the clackety-clack of air hockey and table tennis, "Electric Boogie" thumping from a stereo and Nikes squeaking against the gym floor amid the shrieks and squeals of wild 8-year-olds.
Alicia Price, 19, was weary by day's end. She had spent most of the afternoon refereeing wrestling matches. "My throat hurts from hollering," she said.
She and the other five counselors will be the core leaders at the program for neighborhood elementary school children run by the city's recreation department. They will be supervising about 150 children in table games and pool, coaching basketball and baseball and teaching arts and crafts.
"I love kids so much," said Price, who will be a freshman nursing major at the University of the District of Columbia this fall. "I enjoy showing them a lot of things I know already."
Victoria Thomas, a 16-year-old junior at McKinley High School, spent the afternoon turning glitter, glue and colored paper into sparkling nameplates for the children.
Although she said she was not learning any skills she could directly apply to her future as a businesswoman, she did think her third year as a Fort Lincoln counselor would be useful.
"Along the way it will help me somewhere. A situation may come up where I'll remember this."