Boston's Red Shirts Improve City Image

KEVIN JOHNSON, 16, takes a break from raking grass on the outskirts of Boston's Franklin Park Zoo on a hot summer afternoon.

He and his teenage co-workers, all attired in bright red T-shirts, stand out like beacons as they rake, cut, and bundle grass clippings along Seaver Street.

The "Red Shirts" work under Boston's youth employment program. City officials say it is one of the country's largest city summer job initiatives.

A resident of Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood, Kevin is glad he has found work, even if it gets hot in the sun.

"I'm trying to save some money up for myself and for my grandmother," says Kevin, who lives in a housing project with his grandmother.

The Red Shirts work under a variety of summer job programs in Boston.

Kevin works for the Boston Youth Cleanup Corps, which cleans up vacant lots, streets, parks and public facilities throughout Boston. Last summer, the Youth Corps employed 2,145 youngsters aged 14 to 17.

Red Shirt crews also participate in an Environmental Protection Agency Program at the zoo, a sports camp, and a park ranger program.

In the EPA program, kids learn about environmental career opportunities. Teens work on water and solid waste projects at the zoo four days a week.

On the fifth day, they explore career opportunities through field trips. Red Shirts also work as recreational assistants, day-care workers, day-camp counselors, and even photographers.

Sandra Lopez, who will be a junior at West Roxbury High School next year, takes photographs of other Red Shirt workers for the city's parks department.

She and three other teens are part of a new photography training program.

"We're learning about how to take pictures at the right aperture and shutter speed," she says.

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