By Dylan Deprey
Chip bags, check. Blunt wrappers, check. Giant pieces of old car tires, check.
As the snow melts and the sun teases what is in store for Summer, Spring cleaning is a must, whether its inside or out in the neighborhood.
On the corner of 35th and Center, Vaun Mayes and several young adults were hard at work filling trash bags with garbage accumulated over the winter.
“Check this out!” said one youth while running across a field hoisting a bent bicycle rim and tossing it in the bag.
Several years ago, Mayes noticed that there was a void in the Sherman Park community. The Park and surrounding neighborhoods needed help, and so did local youth. As a year-round extension to Program the Parks, he created the Youth Stipend Program. It was a way for youth to make a little cash, while also cleaning up their neighborhood.
The tensions between youth and adults boiling over in 2016 was an eye opener for Mayes. After working with the youth in Sherman Park, he got to understand some of the root issues.
“If you really sit down and actually listen to them, you can really understand what’s going on at home,” Mayes said. “For a lot of these parents, children become a burden after certain time. They have to buy them clothes and feed them all the time, and a lot of them feel like either a burden or they have to contribute to the household.”
Mayes’ goal is to get the kids out the house and give parents some time to themselves, while also giving youth a couple bucks for their hard work and a meal.
“It gets them in the mode for earning,” Mayes said. “I look at this as job creation.”
Mayes has a list of about 35 young adults in a group chat to reach out to when they have work. Most of the young adults are from the Sherman Park area that have grown through the program, but others were either referred through friends or by Mayes himself.
Jeremiah Thompson, 18, has been with the program for the past five years. He has since graduated and works as both a teacher at a local school and in construction.
“Vaun is always doing good things for me and opening up doors for me, so when they call for help, I’m coming,” Thompson said.
Mayes said that he had borrowed some elements from elder, Andre Lee Ellis and the WeGotThis program over on 9th and Ring.
“We always pay homage to Andre, but we just evolved it and morphed it into other things than just the garden,” Mayes said.
Mayes reaches out to businesses and community members for donations to pay the teens. Jobs usually range from $20-$60.
“Sometimes they’ve even made $100 doing moving jobs for people,” Mayes said.
RP Potts, Center Street Marketplace Business Improvement District 39 chairman, reached out to Mayes to donate his time and money towards the cause.
“We are in a high drug trafficking area, and we need to change that, nobody else,” Potts said. “We have to stand up as brothers and set an example for these young men out here.”
Potts smiled as he picked up litter alongside the youth.
“Seeing all these young men working, I’m loving it,” Potts said.
Along with a couple bucks, Potts said he was also taking the youth out for lunch after to celebrate the hard work.
“You have to make sure they get some grub,” Potts said.
To some, picking up garbage for an hour along Center St. for $20 is nothing, but to others, it’s about having a little extra cash and something constructive to do. Mayes looks to give the youth the same opportunity, just as he had to make a change.
“I went from being a homeless teenager and nobody helping me, to somebody that didn’t have to help, doing that,” Mayes said. “Once I didn’t have to do the stuff I was doing, I didn’t do it anymore, and a lot of people passed me when I was telling them what was wrong.”
For more information on the Youth Stipend Program visit https://www.facebook.com/YungLz.