Youths perking up city’s playgrounds

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Participants in the City of Vicksburg’s youth summer work program discovered that some playgrounds are in much worse shape than others, and now they’re working to improve them.

Kenya Burks, chief of staff to Mayor Paul Winfield, is overseeing the 10 students who assessed the city’s 22 parks and playgrounds then recommended to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen areas they felt need improvement. From those suggestions, the board decided what to order and repair.

“One thing that they brought to our attention is the lack of uniformity,” Burks said. “In some areas the playgrounds are really well-developed and in other areas they are not. Basically what they have suggested is that we upgrade those older playgrounds.”

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This week the youth began work on the playgrounds, which includes tasks ranging from painting equipment to adding wood chips.

“I liked the fact that I got to put my input in on what we can do to change the parks in the city,” said Lamarshal Davis, 17, daughter of Edna and Lamar Davis.

Davis said painting and landscaping are a few skills she has acquired that she thinks she will use later in life. Knowing that she is helping the community is what she enjoys most, she said.

Winfield said the program has succeeded in teaching youth life skills and has allowed them to have a productive summer.

“One of the things we really want to do is get out here and take our communities back,” Winfield said Monday at the playground on Farmer Street, the first of about 14 playgrounds and parks the youth will work on. “What we found has been that many of our area parks that are owned and maintained by the city in the less than affluent areas have been overlooked and we want to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Winfield said the workers have exceeded his expectations and he hopes they continue to do positive things for the city.

“Another ulterior motive that I have is to encourage our young people to get their education or to learn their trade for whatever they choose to do and to come back to this community and give back,” he said.

Sammie Rainey, interim director of buildings and maintenance, said the four guys working in his department have done a great job painting fire stations and other city buildings.

“They’re all good painters,” Rainey said. “I’m not blowing smoke now. Their work speaks for itself.”

Darnell White, 19, a student at Alcorn State University and one of the four working in Rainey’s department, said he has learned a lot from the experience.

“I learned how to work with others,” he said. “As far as painting, I learned how to paint floors and cut in on walls, roll walls. I learned a lot with paint.” White, who did not have any previous painting experience, said he would like to paint houses on the side for extra money.

White said when he rides by the fire station “it feels good to say, ‘Hey, I helped with that.’”

When the program was approved during the May 25 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman voted against it because of the cost.

“It’s not that I don’t support the kids or anything,” he said. “When you’re putting on part-time workers making basically the same thing as some of your full-time guys, when you get to a minimum wage scenario and (full-time workers) haven’t been able to get raises and stuff like that, I think money could be used a little bit differently.”

The youth workers are paid $7.25 an hour and work 20 hours a week. Nearly 200 applied. Applicants were selected by a drawing to ensure favoritism wasn’t shown. The total cost to pay the 43 workers for six weeks is $37,410, which comes from the city’s general fund. There was no program last summer due to budget constraints. Beauman said youth summer work programs have been around at least since 1994 when he was director of parks and recreation. The number of workers hired has varied over the years, from a few dozen to more than 100, he said.

“It’s a good program, but I don’t think it’s something that’s a necessity,” he said. “I don’t feel like we had the available dollars to spend there that we should have been spending on full-time employees, let’s say. I know we’re in a mode right now we’re trying to find dollars for the next budget year and possibly do some kind of a small raise.”

Forty-three high school and college students have been working parttime in the city’s departments over the past five weeks as part of the youth summer work program, which ends Friday.