Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) helped mow 81-year-old Evelyn Young’s lawn Saturday to raise awareness about a new city program in which youths reentering society after time in the juvenile justice system provide lawn-care services for senior citizens.
“No, let me pull it — I got this,” Bowser said, laughing with 18-year-old Jordan Thurman as she started the lawn mower in Young’s backyard in Brookland.
Thurman is one of two youths from the New Beginnings Youth Development Center taking part in the program — dubbed “The Grass is Greener” — that launched in May and serves 16 District residents on Saturdays. The youths work with mentors from New Beginnings and Carl Matthews, the supervisor of facility operations for New Beginnings, who came up with the idea for The Grass is Greener.
Matthews said he hopes it will help participating youth, who are in the final stage of their stays at New Beginnings, give back to society and ease their reentry into their communities. The program will also help provide young people with “skills they need to go out into the world and get employment,” Bowser said.
“We’re also focused on how we can help seniors and call attention to our back-to-basics priorities,” said Bowser, who sported safety glasses and a bright green DYRS Lawn Care Services T-shirt. “Obviously, we have a lot of senior homeowners in our city, and they need help with basic home-care services like lawn care.”
Young used to enjoy taking care of the garden in her backyard, but she is no longer able to lift mulch — “I’m too old for that” — and hiring a lawn-care service was “prohibitively expensive for someone on a fixed income,” said her daughter, Cheryl Gillette, 61.
The biweekly service has been “phenomenally helpful,” Gillette added.
For Thurman, who arrived at New Beginnings in September, working on lawns reminds him of cutting his grandmother’s grass growing up.
“It helps you feel good,” said Thurman, who plans to enter the 12th grade this fall.
The program is part of DYRS’s larger philosophy of restorative justice, said DYRS Director Clinton Lacey.
“We believe that our young people can be restored to the community, and what better way to do that than to connect with elders,” Lacey said.
He said he would like to expand the program for both the number of youths who participate and the number of community members who are served. The program, he added, could have some “entrepreneurial potential” for participants after they leave New Beginnings.
And DYRS can help with more than trimming hedges — as was evidenced by a lockout scare Saturday at the house after Bowser had departed. At some point in the excitement over the mayor’s arrival, Young’s house was accidentally locked with its occupants all outside. A locksmith was called, but one of the program mentors had a quicker idea.
Jared Waters, 28, grabbed a ladder and climbed onto the second story roof. “Be careful,” one staff member below shouted. “There’s a dog in there, man,” another added. At one window, he met with success, went in and opened the door on the first floor.
“DYRS to the rescue,” a staffer outside cheered.