Al Bibbins, still in his bedroom slippers, stepped out on his front porch and spotted a small group of teenagers in his yard.
Armed with clippers, rakes and a lawn mower, the teens were cutting the grass, trimming the hedge and tidying the yard.
“I had a brain aneurysm a couple of years ago, ” Bibbins explained. “Doctor said yardwork was definitely out. I was thinking, if I can’t keep the yard up, I might as well sell the place and move into an apartment.”
Because of the teenagers’ efforts, Bibbins will spend at least another year in his home.
The crew of teens provides free lawn care for low-income elderly or the disabled in the East Central neighborhood.
The foursome and their supervisor work from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, earning minimum wage.
The program, new this year, is funded through the federal Job Training Partnership Act and administered by the East Central Community Center, said Anne Millane, program director with the Youth Agency Employment Program.
Program participants, both the teens and the elderly, must qualify as low-income and be residents of the East Central neighborhood, said Billie Lou Barker, the community center’s summer youth project manager.
Low-income elderly or the disabled need only call the community center and schedule an appointment to have their yardwork done.
Word travels fast, said Collin Evanson, a Washington State University senior who is the yard crew’s supervisor.
“That’s how we get most of our work; one neighbor tells another,” Evanson said.
In search of summer work, Dennis Evans and Tom Howard, both 16, and Galina Lukin and Dave Davis, both 18, signed up for yard duty after hearing about the program through their high school counselors.
All four teens live in the East Central neighborhood.
For Lukin, a Russian immigrant who speaks very little English, the job allows her to work - pull weeds, rake and sweep - without having to worry whether she’ll be understood. She’s just part of the crew.
Through a translator, Lukin said, “The boys talk to me, but I really don’t understand what they’re saying.”
If the four teens complete 400 hours of work this summer, they’ll be credited $1,000 in scholarship money, which can be applied to college or vocational school, Milland said.
The hours are sometimes long and hot.
“Swing-blading is the hardest,” said Evans, whose work experience has put change in his pocket and muscle on his forearms.
When the crew first assembled June 24, few East Central residents were aware of the program, so the teens cleaned the neighborhood’s vacant lots and sidewalks, which meant chopping down waist-high weeds with a scythe, or swing-blade, Evans said.
But within two weeks, word spread, and the crew was cutting six to seven lawns a day.
In the morning they load two electric mowers as well as rakes, clippers and an edger into a small red truck.
There’s not enough room for everyone in the front seat, so Evanson usually makes two trips to haul all four teens to the work site.
“I wish we had better transportation,” Evanson said. “And a commercial mower.”
Though the East Central Community Center was able to purchase two new lawn mowers, they’re standard mowers, not built to operate six or seven hours a day.
“They’re getting used all day long,” Evanson said.
“The program has worked out really well,” said Barker. “This is the most low-income, depressed area.
“People don’t have the dollars and equipment to do this.
“We target the elderly, but it would be nice to target single parents who can’t afford it.”
The young yard crew does nice work, according to clients.
“Oh they do such a good job,” said 73-year-old Elaine Cleveland, pressing her palms together.
Cleveland said she had told a friend about the program.
“She got home from the convalescent home,” she said. “No one took care of the lawn while she was way. She said she would call. She’ll be 86 in October.”
“They have really been a godsend,” Bibbins said.
“If these kids have something to do, they do a little work - nice and mannerly. It keeps them off the street and teaches them the work ethic.”
As everyone finished raking, Bibbins started for his front door.
“You about ready for your pops?” he asked.
“Yeah,” came the teenagers’ thirsty replies.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.