Teens help build an urban oasis Waterfall, pond to grace Stockton Street site


The trash-filled lot on South Stockton Street was the most unlikely of places for a little park with a waterfall and goldfish pond.

But in a matter of days this summer, the trash, discarded washing machines, rubble and weeds were gone from the lot. Ten teen-agers from Southwest Baltimore's Hollins Market neighborhood cleaned it up and began building the pond, complete with a waterfall.

They plan to erect stone steps leading to the pond and to build a brick wall around it. By the end of the summer, they also hope to finish carving a totem pole out of a white oak log.

The youths' seven-week summer jobs with the Maryland Conservation Corps brought them to the 100 block of S. Stockton St. -- a decrepit, narrow road just south of Lombard Street where most of the houses are vacant.

Under the tutelage of architect Steve Taylor, who designed the park and lives on the block, the teen-agers hauled decorative rocks from Leakin Park, laid bricks and dug the pond. They soldered the metal pipes necessary to run water to the waterfall, a water fountain and a sprinkler that children can play under on hot days.

The project was organized by the St. Benedict Housing Council as a positive outlet for channeling their energy. Mary Bontempo, the housing council's president, said the teen-agers not only learned how to improve the environment but the experience kept them away from the pitfalls of the street, particularly drug dealing.

The teen-agers are being paid $4.25 an hour and are being counseled on how to manage their money.

Ms. Bontempo helped organize three teams of 10 teen-agers each to work in the neighborhoods of Hollins Market, and two other Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods, Shipley Hill and Mill Hill. Two Yale University students are supervising the Shipley Hill and Mill Hill teams.

In Shipley Hill, Andy Cohen, a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry, is helping his team build a brick "peace wheel" on a large vacant lot in the 2500 block of W. Lombard St.

In last week's 100-degree heat, the teens and Mr. Cohen moved dozens of bricks along a human chain to the area where the "peace wheel" will be located.

The wheel will be a brick walk in the shape of a peace symbol, surrounded by a brick wall about 1 1/2 feet tall. The ground around the wheel will be planted with wildflowers when it's done.

Three of the Shipley Hill team -- Rodney Maultsby, Michael Artis and Raymond Long -- thought up the "peace wheel."

"We want peace in the neighborhood," Michael explained. "With people getting shot, it's rough here."

Before the summer is out, they plan to embed cement pipes into the ground to form a barrier that will prevent drug dealers from driving onto a nearby playground.

Farther west, in the Mill Hill community, Gabriel Misarti, who just graduated from Yale with a degree in environmental studies, is working with the third crew of teen-agers in a long narrow lot on East Lynne Avenue, a short street off the 2700 block of Frederick Ave.

After clearing the lot of debris and cutting down 4-foot-high grass and weeds, they have begun digging a long path in the rocky earth that will lead to a gazebo.

All materials to build the three parks were donated by local businesses. But the Mill Hill team is building the gazebo out of large pine logs because they did not receive donations of cut lumber, Mr. Misarti said.

Once the parks are finished, each community will be faced with the difficult task of protecting them from vandals.

Ms. Bontempo said the teen-agers were put to work in their own neighborhoods in hopes that they will personally help protect the parks by keeping them clean and chasing off vandals. At the Hollins Market park, 14-year-old Devon Boston said he hoped the neighborhood residents will "get together and keep [vandals] out."

Ms. Bontempo said she hoped the program would teach the teen-agers the value of hard work. "If they can make it in this job in this heat while other kids are dealing drugs for their money, it shows moral character," she said.

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