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Mayor's Youth Improve the City, and Themselves

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

A group of 20 high school students employed by Peoria’s public works department for the summer have some ideas about how the city can better serve area youth.

On Thurs., the cluster of teenagers donned neon-yellow road crew vests and did landscaping work in a parking lot, outside the American Red Cross. The assignment is one of many beautification projects they've completed through Mayor’s Summer Youth Program in the last six weeks.  

During that time, Peoria High School senior Terrell Ford says he's become less self-centered.

“Let’s use this job for example. I get up and realize I have to give my time and my effort to help other people out,” Ford said. “Because we’ve got this goal that we’ve got to get done, and everything can’t just be about myself.”

Ford compares it to weeding. 

"If you don't get the root, it's just going to keep coming back. You've gotta get that root, and you've gotta expose it," Ford said. 

He says he’s learned to confront personal challenges and fix them.

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio
Peoria Public Radio
Jasmine Quinn, a senior at Peoria High, and Chara Nathan, a junior at Richwoods, take a water break on their shift, weeding a parking lot on a 90-degree day.

Just an earshot away, his teammates Jasmine Quinn and Chara Nathan are pulling up weeds, literally. It’s 90 degrees, but the girls are still having a good time.

Quinn says a positive attitude and a catchy tune helps the time pass by.

“Just something fun to keep everybody in a good mood,” she said.

Quinn and Nathan met for the first time this summer through the Mayor’s Youth Program. They now consider each other friends. The girls hang out after work, going to Steak 'n Shake or to see a movie. They say the city needs more programs like this to engage youth.

“If you notice everybody complains there’s nothing to do in Peoria,” Nathan said. Quinn chimed in: “And that’s what gets everybody in trouble.”

She means getting kids off the streets, and into meaningful activities, like music or poetry.  

“Nobody wants to hear about a teenager dying or a teenager going to jail. That’s something you get tired of hearing about,” Quinn said. “We just need more things to keep us occupied and our minds focused to prepare us for the near future.”

Quinn and Nathan say they’ll continue hanging out when summer’s over, even though they go to different schools. The Mayor’s Youth Program participants finish their summer jobs next Friday.

Program leader Damarvis Dixon says he’s enjoyed watching the young hires grow individually and as a team. He adds, some students have expressed interest in clearing snow this winter.