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City Youth Rejuvenate Parks

This year, Mayor Duggan stated that the city is committing to increasing dramatically the number of parks it maintains. With over 300 parks across the city however and only 10% of those maintained last year, the challenge was immense.

Through its adopt-a-park program, a number of churches, corporations and neighborhood groups are maintaining over 70 of those parks. However, it was clear that for the remaining 230, finding a way to supplement the existing workforce of nearly 300 full-time and seasonal workers would require help.

Richard Watts removing fallen tree from Phelps Park
Richard Watts removing fallen tree from Phelps Park

So in the search for a solution, the City of Detroit’s General Services Division (GSD) addressed the youth of Detroit by turning to the Detroit Employment Solutions (DESC) ‘Year-Round Youth Program’.

DESC works with several key partners around the city to provide a range of Year-Round activities and opportunities, as well as a Summer Youth component. Meeting with DESC in March, GSD Director Brad Dick said that over 40 positions would need to be filled in order to clean up the parks, among which are Rouge Park, Jane Field and Stopel Park.

When the GSD opportunity was made available, youth applied through their Year-Round Youth Program provider, and were then interviewed and required to pass a drug screen. They were selected for positions based on their interests and, for those who had been enrolled for some time, the quality of their engagement throughout the year.

Cleanup started in April with a crew of 43 Detroit youth doing general cleanup and learning about tree-cutting and stump removal with the forestry unit, but it didn’t stop there.

GSD were so impressed with the first group of youth that came through DESC that in May, when they decided to expand the scope of activity to include park maintenance rather than just cleanup, they again turned to DESC for additional workers. Once again, the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) was able to find more youth motivated to find summer jobs. Currently, well over 50 youth are working with GSD to make Detroit’s parks all that they can be.

Responsibilities for these employees have also expanded. Weed whacking, curb line trimming and running green machine lawnmowers are now all part of the job. Some older youth are also earning pesticide application and hi-low operator credentials.

“DESC is the city’s workforce agency with responsibility for running the Summer Youth Employment Program, a program that has run for over 40 years” said DESC President and CEO Pamela Moore. “Thousands of opportunities with hundreds of employers are available for youth that really want to get that experience. And when it comes to full time work, employers really do want to see work experience on a resume. They want to know that potential employees have developed that work ethic.”

19 year-old Richard Watts heard about the SYEP through a friend and has now been working with GSD for 8 weeks.

“I love doing this work,” said Watts, who will start college this fall studying mechanical engineering. “I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and working with my hands; throughout this experience I have learned various skills that will help with new job opportunities.”

Aundrey Dryer on cleanup duty
Aundrey Dryer on cleanup duty

Aundrey Dyer agrees. The 19 year-old found out about SYEP after a visit to the DESC One-Stop at Samaritan Center on Conner. He is saving up to buy a house, and plans to earn the pesticide and hi-low credentials so he can continue in this field when the summer placement ends. “It has really encouraged my independence, and given me a better way of life,” he said.

Earning $9.25 an hour and sometimes working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, the energy and commitment of the participants has made a strong impression on their supervisor.

“Working with them has been a real pleasure,” said crew chief Kenya Reid. “They learn quickly, they work hard and they want to make a good impression. Most important of all, they are learning work skills and credentials that will provide a good foundation for the future”.

For GSD, the program has been such a success that the department is looking into the possibility of retaining several of the positions throughout the winter months.

For more information about the Year-Round Youth Program, visit