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College of Design

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How do I Manage?...Hi's and low's of outdoor youth work

So many landscape projects happen in the few short warm months in Minnesota. Everywhere I look people's yards are getting redone, improved and renovated. I passed onto the west side of Hennepin Avenue and rode down to Lake of the Isles yesterday. It is an extremely affluent part of town called Kenwood. I passed manicured European style gardens pristine with parterre de broderie of Boxwoods, wild English gardens styled with climbing ivy and tall grasses, stone retaining walls that line brightly colored flowering plants and of course numerous exquisitely (although unfortunate to the cities water supply) groomed Kentucky Bluegrass lawns. Work is happening on all scales. Homeowners, landlords, Minneapolis parks and lakes and entire greenway systems are getting revamped and renewed. Some people till and mulch their gardens; you can see changes in the shorelines of many city lakes as they are restored with native plants and grasses. Landscaping industry is pulsing during the summer here.

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My job progress is in a transitional phase. As some of you know I am working on a landscaping project for the city of Minneapolis facilitating 8 high school aged crew members to build an erosion reducing retaining wall out of modular concrete block. The youth have never held jobs before and for most of them this is a serious change from the tasks and expectations put upon them from school or home. They are paid, get sufficient brakes, and are supplied with all necessary equipment. I would say only half of the 8 kids arrive with a good attitude and intent to work, aka, do not question the fact that work does not involve cell phones, head phones, swearing, sitting down, or constantly complaining. Some do not understand this condition of being employed. I remember high school pretty well but I also remember my first job. As a dishwasher at this little cafe called Trotters in St. Paul, don't judge MPLS-ians. I loved work, the time outside of home and pay check were enough to keep my attitude in check. My job i quickly came to realize is to complete this erosion barrier on the Greenway while helping my work force from acting like "kids" even though they are. Its such a challenge, especially when I see the beautifully executed gardens and landscapes around the city. I could be working on those with precision and self conviction. So I ask myself "why youth work?" I am easily going to answer this for you, although it took me a long time to sort out in my head.

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They are surprising. One minute they fighting your instruction the next they calm down, reflect in time and learn from the experiences on the job. They push themselves harder than they think is possible and grow. I enjoy being a part of these events in their lives, thinking of those people in my life and how they helped me get where I am today.