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On North Side, youths do bulk of work that residents cannot



Published: Sun, July 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The older women must find a way because there aren't very many younger families around anymore.

By ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Willie Williams bends over the cane she carries in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other.

She shouts out to the young people milling around to grab a rake and a garbage bag.

"Start where you see the worst. Get busy -- you know what you're doing," she says. "We just got to get organized and get going."

It's just past 9 a.m. on a damp and gray Saturday morning in late May. Williams, leader of the Eagle Eye Block Watch, is directing a neighborhood cleanup from a gravel parking lot at Wirt Street and Fairgreen Avenue.

Williams has helpers today. About three dozen youngsters are here. They come from the YouthBuild training program, the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center and the county jail.

Williams hopes some lawn mowers show up, too, to cut back the tall grass at a few addresses.

Especially at a known drug house nearby. Drug dealers don't like it when blight is cut away from their operating base. That might not happen today, though.

"No lawn mowers? No lawn mowers?" Williams asks, of nobody in particular. "Well, we're not going to be disheartened."

Doing their part

Undaunted, Williams turns to her adult helpers who are setting up grills to feed the volunteers. The cooks are mostly older women; one carries a portable oxygen tank hooked to her belt.

They can't do the raking, mowing and lifting that the neighborhood needs -- that's why they rounded up all the young people.

The older women are the leaders in the cleanup because there aren't too many younger families who live in the neighborhood anymore.

"This is a really, really old area," said Councilman Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, who stops by with coffee and a box of canvas work gloves for the volunteers.

Even so, the active residents do what they can. Even Williams, with her cane, drags around a garbage bag, filling it with litter.

"I can't sit down. I'll stiffen up. I'll get in a hot shower later," she says.

Williams' patience on the mowers is rewarded later in the morning.

A neighborhood man shows up with a lawn mower. The grass at that drug house is cut.

The young people with full garbage bags filter back to Wirt and Fairgreen about noon and gather around the grill to collect their reward: hot dogs.

Brush piles awaiting pickup dot the streets and city litter trucks are full with 200 discarded tires and garbage. Sitting nearby, Williams surveys the neighborhood.

"I'm pleased and thankful. We got a lot of territory covered," she says.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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