Antione Harris, 18, started back on the road to becoming an architectural engineer yesterday by doing jumping jacks in the crisp morning air in front of City Hall.

Mr. Harris, who dropped out of Northern High School more than a year ago but has since completed his GED, is looking forward to college. And he plans to pay for it by doing community work around Baltimore as part of AmeriCorps, the national service program starting around the nation this fall.

He and 47 other recruits in a Baltimore branch of the national program were sworn in and issued uniforms this week in orientation sessions that frequently invoked the youth work programs of the New Deal era.

For the next 11 months, he and other participants in Civic Works will begin the day with a 7:45 a.m. workout on the City Hall plaza. Then, they'll rehabilitate low-income housing, tutor elementary school students or rebuild park trails.

The participants, Baltimore-area residents aged 17 to 25, will receive a $4,725 educational voucher, good for tuition or student loan payments, in return for 1,700 hours of participation. They'll also earn $4.30 an hour, working four days a week on projects and spending a fifth day earning their GEDs, planning for college receiving career counseling.

Work sites will also be classrooms.

Families working with participants to rehabilitate homes will learn leadership and teamwork skills, said Michael Shafer, housing development specialist with the People's Homesteading Group. "At the same time, the young people will get similar experiences to take back to their lives."

Many participants in Baltimore's Civic Works jumped at the chance to finish high school, earn college money and help their community.

For Stephaney Smith, 17, the program combines everything she needs. Miss Smith said she dropped out of 12th grade at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School this year because it was too hard to combine school, work and spending time with her 2-year-old son. Now, through AmeriCorps, she can complete her GED, get work experience and earn money to become a registered nurse.

Participants will learn a work ethic, responsibility and teamwork, especially through the morning exercises, said Eric Clay, who oversees recruiting, counseling and education for Civic Works members.

Noting that many of the youths were dropouts, "it's incredible how many can make it here at 7:45 when some couldn't make [high school] at 12 o'clock," said Mr. Clay, who led the morning workout.

Civic Works was awarded $1 million in August for 72 full-time AmeriCorps members, according to executive director Dana Stein. Twenty-four participants will join the program in January.

Maryland has 900 participants in 19 AmeriCorps programs, six of them state-based, according to Marilyn Smith, director of the Governor's Commission on Service, which coordinates all the programs. Nationally, 20,000 people have joined in the first full year of the program that President Clinton signed into law.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad