Se­niors can get lawn-care help from ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers re­turn­ing home

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE DIS­TRICT BY RACHEL CHA­SON rachel.cha­son@wash­post.com

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) helped mow 81-year-old Eve­lyn Young’s lawn Satur­day to raise aware­ness about a new city pro­gram in which youths reen­ter­ing so­ci­ety af­ter time in the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem pro­vide lawn-care ser­vices for se­nior cit­i­zens.

“No, let me pull it — I got this,” Bowser said, laugh­ing with 18year-old Jordan Thur­man as she started the lawn mower in Young’s back­yard in Brook­land.

Thur­man is one of two youths from the New Be­gin­nings Youth Devel­op­ment Cen­ter tak­ing part in the pro­gram — dubbed “The Grass is Greener” — that launched in May and serves 16 Dis­trict res­i­dents on Satur­days. The youths work with men­tors from New Be­gin­nings and Carl Matthews, the su­per­vi­sor of fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tions for New Be­gin­nings, who came up with the idea for The Grass is Greener.

Matthews said he hopes it will help par­tic­i­pat­ing youth, who are in the fi­nal stage of their stays at New Be­gin­nings, give back to so­ci­ety and ease their reen­try into their com­mu­ni­ties. The pro­gram will also help pro­vide young peo­ple with “skills they need to go out into the world and get em­ploy­ment,” Bowser said.

“We’re also fo­cused on how we can help se­niors and call at­ten­tion to our back-to-ba­sics pri­or­i­ties,” said Bowser, who sported safety glasses and a bright green DYRS Lawn Care Ser­vices T-shirt. “Ob­vi­ously, we have a lot of se­nior home­own­ers in our city, and they need help with ba­sic home-care ser­vices like lawn care.”

Young used to en­joy tak­ing care of the gar­den in her back­yard, but she is no longer able to lift mulch — “I’m too old for that” — and hir­ing a lawn-care ser­vice was “pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive for some­one on a fixed in­come,” said her daugh­ter, Ch­eryl Gil­lette, 61.

The bi­weekly ser­vice has been “phe­nom­e­nally help­ful,” Gil­lette added.

For Thur­man, who ar­rived at New Be­gin­nings in Septem­ber, work­ing on lawns re­minds him of cut­ting his grand­mother’s grass grow­ing up.

“It helps you feel good,” said Thur­man, who plans to en­ter the 12th grade this fall.

The pro­gram is part of DYRS’s larger phi­los­o­phy of restora­tive jus­tice, said DYRS Di­rec­tor Clin­ton Lacey.

“We be­lieve that our young peo­ple can be re­stored to the com­mu­nity, and what bet­ter way to do that than to con­nect with el­ders,” Lacey said.

He said he would like to ex­pand the pro­gram for both the num­ber of youths who par­tic­i­pate and the num­ber of com­mu­nity mem­bers who are served. The pro­gram, he added, could have some “en­tre­pre­neur­ial po­ten­tial” for par­tic­i­pants af­ter they leave New Be­gin­nings.

And DYRS can help with more than trim­ming hedges — as was ev­i­denced by a lock­out scare Satur­day at the house af­ter Bowser had de­parted. At some point in the ex­cite­ment over the mayor’s ar­rival, Young’s house was ac­ci­den­tally locked with its oc­cu­pants all out­side. A lock­smith was called, but one of the pro­gram men­tors had a quicker idea.

Jared Wa­ters, 28, grabbed a lad­der and climbed onto the sec­ond story roof. “Be care­ful,” one staff mem­ber be­low shouted. “There’s a dog in there, man,” an­other added. At one win­dow, he met with suc­cess, went in and opened the door on the first floor.

“DYRS to the res­cue,” a staffer out­side cheered.

RACHEL CHA­SON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser mows a lawn with help from Jordan Thur­man, who is par­tic­i­pat­ing in a new youth pro­gram that pro­vides yard ser­vices for the city’s el­derly res­i­dents.

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