A BAY Area community-service organization has won President Clinton's largest Summer of Service contract intended to get college-age students serving needy children.
Mr. Clinton's program, which began last week, focuses on employing students in exchange for a $4.25 minimum-wage salary and a $1,000 tuition grant. East Bay Conservation Corps, which will host 250 of the 1,000 Summer of Service participants, built its 10-year reputation on getting at-risk youths into jobs and off the streets.
The mostly middle-class population in the Summer of Service program is a novelty for the corps, which usually works with poor young men and women.
This year's special funding is part of an $8.6 million fund for summer employment from the Commission on National and Community Service's budget, after money requested in Clinton's economic-stimulus package was denied.
Corps founder Joanna Lennon said the president's program will expand some of her group's projects. The Youth Engaged in Service program, in which middle schools combine environmental projects with learning, will employ 96 of the corps's Summer of Service participants, she said.
Ms. Lennon cited a recent YES activity in which middle-school students "went out to a creek, collected the trash, picked out the recyclables, weighed them. So they were using math, [and] discussed the ecological impact of trash on the creek, applying sience." Pupils then addressed politicians on the floor of the Legislature.
"I turned my life around," said former corps member Derrick Barrett, who has a full-time job in recycling. He served a two-year prison sentence, then entered the program to leave the street behind. "I did anything to survive back then," he said, exposing a bullet wound. "But I made [the program] benefit me."
The corps offers classes so participants can get their learning skills up to high school level. Each day begins with military-style physical training meant to instill discipline. But some find the work so hard that they drop out.
But Joslyn Hicks, who has been in the program for nearly eight months, said it's worth the effort. "If I can't help myself, nobody will," she said. "I was tired of sitting around watching soap operas and getting fat." She and her fellow crew members are clearing dead trees from a fire-damaged slope in West Oakland.
Michael Jones picked up a piece of wood and carried it up the hill. Wiping his drenched brow, he said the work was tiring. "But it's something to do, something to keep me out of trouble, off the streets."
Baby-faced Cedrick Nelson passed by with a shoulder full of branches. He said he left a restaurant job in Florida and ended up in California. "I want to go to college," he said. "This is getting me started." East Bay will pay for one college class, as it helps participants get their credentials in order.
Shiquetta Pendarvis, 19, loves working outdoors. Lowering goggles over her eyes, she pulled the chain-saw cord and shouted: "I know how to fell a tree, how to buck a log. I can set up for a controlled burn," she said. "You got to look out for the endangered species, like eucalyptus and coyote brush. They burn fast."
The oldest crew member, 24-year-old Anthony Zeno, admitted that some people see the corps simply as an employer, but he added that the money alone is not worth the labor. "If you don't have a goal set," he said, "you might as well not even come here."
Lennon concurs. "We help these young adults realize the plans they have for themselves, and now, with the president's program, we're adding a new goal."