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Baltimore City youths get stipends to shovel sidewalks for seniors

Baltimore youth get stipends to shovel sidewalks for seniors.

After shoveling the sidewalks of more than a dozen elderly residents in his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood Sunday — not to mention his own family's sidewalk and those of several neighbors — 16-year-old Cory Daniels was exhausted.

"When I came in the house, my body was locking up on me," he said.

But by Monday morning, the Baltimore Community High School sophomore was outside with his shovel once more, ready to continue working under the new City Youth Snow Program, which pays young people stipends to shovel the sidewalks of residents 65 and older and those with disabilities.

"I needed money, and I can't get a job right now," Cory said. "It's worth it because I'm helping the elderly. But it's hard work."

The program, a collaboration between the city Department of Transportation and YouthWorks, was announced last summer by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as a way to provide work opportunities in a city starving for them.

A total of 345 youths between the ages of 14 and 21 have signed up for the program, and about 1,000 seniors and residents with disabilities have signed up to receive help, officials said.

Those signed up to shovel have been trained to hit the streets when more than 5 inches of snow falls. This storm was their first, said Tennille Blue, a DOT engineer helping to coordinate the program. "It just so happens this was 'Snowmageddon' for the kids," Blue said.

The young men and women earn $10 an hour and are eligible to earn up to $750 over the course of the winter, officials said.

On Sunday and Monday, DOT officials used a Web app called Be A Boss — developed by Baltimorean Elijah Kelley, 43 — to contact students all across the city, connect them with shoveling jobs within four or five blocks of their homes, and prompt them to submit before-and-after pictures of the sidewalks they'd cleared, officials said.

Hundreds of sidewalks were cleared as a result, they said.

Along a side street in the city's Perring Loch neighborhood Monday morning, Daniels met up with Labria Johnson, a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Frances Academy, on her first job. Shortly after, three siblings Daniels had worked with the day before arrived: Aiesha Johnson, 17, and Angela Witherspoon, 15, both of City Neighbors High School, and their younger brother, Calvery Harris, 14, a KIPP seventh-grader.

Angela said their mother signed them up, but she "felt proud" when she found out that they would be shoveling for older residents. "I was willing to do it."

"Yesterday my back was killing me. My back and my legs. But that was it. I'm good," Aiesha said. "I like it. It helps more people out. I think everybody needs help."

With shovels supplied by the city, all five students started in on the large bank of snow covering the sidewalk in front of the home of Carolyn Fenwick, 74, a resident of the neighborhood for nearly 40 years who broke into a smile when she came to her door and realized the students were out front.

"I kept telling people I'm supposed to have some young guys out here," Fenwick said. "I was getting ready to get my boots on to do a little bit, but I have a bad back."

Later, as she walked down her steps to talk to the students, she cracked another wide smile.

"Oh, thank you all so much," she said, noting she'd been scared she was going to get a citation for not clearing her walk.

Back in July, Rawlings-Blake announced the launch of the student shoveling program as a positive example of city progress at a time when the unrest and rioting of April and the subsequent homicide spike were garnering national headlines. At the time, she was still running for re-election.

"I am going to focus on moving our city forward, healing our city. We've been through a tough time, and I know that there's a lot of good news that's going on in the city," she said then.

On Monday, Rawlings-Blake — no longer running for re-election — showed up at Fenwick's home to observe the students' progress and join in on the work for a bit.

Fenwick gave her a hug. The students all laughed when the mayor threw snow at her cameraman. "How's my form?" she joked, as she bent at the knees and scooped up a small mound of white powder.

"People say what they will about our young folks, but they were calling in ready to work," she said of the program's success. "I'm just glad we were able to do this and find an innovative way to engage our young people when school is out."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RectorSun

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