About 30 boys were up and at it on a recent Thursday morning, planting flowers, spreading mulch and mowing grass at the “Welcome to Edgewood” sign.

The boys are part of the boys 2 MEN summer work program, a five-week program that puts members to work, and they get paid.

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“The goal is to make Edgewood proud of Edgewood,” Pastor Alfred Reeves, the director of boys 2 MEN, said.

The community has had its share of negative press recently with a handful of shootings, he said; it needs something positive.

“There are positive things happening with young people, positive things they’re doing,” Reeves, who has been with the program for 25 years, said. “And instead of tearing down, we’re creating, we’re building, and that’s important.”

Seeing the boys — most of them in middle school — out working on a Thursday morning in the summer, gives the community pride, he said.

“In every community, the school is the hub of the wheel, and we drive the influence,” Reeves said. “For the community to see us doing this work, the young people doing this work, it inspires the rest of the community to rally around them.”

It showed on Thursday. Drivers passing through the intersection of Willoughby Beach and Edgewood roads honked in support of the boys.

“You’re doing a great job,” a bus driver for Harford County LINK said as she stopped at the traffic light.

One woman brought refreshments.

Collean McKinney lives in the Willoughby Woods neighborhood and said she felt like she needed to say thank you, but also to do something more.

“I see safety, I see security, I see beautification, I see care,” McKinney said of the project. “I just see a positive work ethic. It means a lot because these kids could be anywhere else.”

The boys work six-hour days with a half-hour for lunch, similar to a school day. They work four days a week since schools are closed on Fridays in the summer. They get paid $10.10 an hour. Ten are paid with grant funding through Harford County Public Schools and 20 are paid through the Susquehanna Workforce Network.

When they finished mulching around the sign, the boys were heading to Edgewood High to continue their work there.

Among their projects this summer has been beautification in front of Edgewood Middle and High schools and Magnolia Elementary and Middle schools, Reeves said.

They’ve been working inside and outside helping the custodians getting the buildings ready — planting, shrubbing, cleaning out lockers.

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“It helps the school and it just looks so nice when the students and the teachers come back,” Edgewood Middle School Principal Melissa Williams said.

Williams, who is going into her third year at Edgewood Middle, was at Magnolia Middle for eight years before that, so she knows many of the members and the boys in the summer work program.

“It’s a welcoming entrance into the school,” Williams said.

Keon Jordan, 15, who will be a sophomore at Joppatowne High this fall, has been a member of boys 2 MEN since sixth grade.

“I saw it as a good opportunity to learn new things, to go about things a new way,” Keon said. “I was new to middle school, I thought I could use a guiding light.”

In his four years in the program, he’s made a lot of new friends and done a lot of new things. One of his favorite activities was being able to interview the two candidates for Harford County Public Schools superintendent, a position ultimately filled by Sean Bulson.

“I felt like they were trusting me in helping make the right decision in a figure that’s really important in this county,” he said.

Austin Stevens, who will be a ninth-grader at Joppatowne, also joined boys 2 MEN in sixth grade.

“I saw it as if I didn’t, I could grow into a more different person,” Austin said. “It’s been a good opportunity to learn good ways and go in a good way.”

He enjoyed being an usher at the inauguration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, handing out fliers at a Ravens game and serving food at the EPICenter in Edgewood to young girls and their fathers.

Jordan Barmer and Enoch Wiredu, both 17, who will both be seniors in high school this year, have stayed in boys 2 MEN as mentors.

“As a person I’ve seen how much it helped me grow up as a person, coming back I can help people see through what they tell us,” Enoch, who is studying nursing at Harford Tech, said. “That you have to work hard, nothing will be handed to you. You have to represent yourself, work hard, earn everything you have.”

Jordan, who attends Joppatowne High, said boys 2 MEN has taught him leadership.

“If a person has no one to look to at home, I can help with that,” Jordan said. “I’m caring, I love to help people. It means a lot to know I’m helping kids.”

Jansen Robinson, recently elected president of the Harford County Board of Education, stopped by Thursday morning to see what the boys were doing.

“It means a lot to the community and I know it means a lot to these boys,” Robinson said about the project. “For the boys, people see young men in Edgewood doing a positive thing.”

With all the negative, it’s good to see the positive, he said.

“And the community sees the boys doing what they ought to be doing,” Robinson said.

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