By VALERIE BANNER
Mike Fleming sits in the driver's seat of a long, steel wagon. His 30 passengers point to and take pictures of the water buffalo, zebras, elk, ostrich and dozens of other animals that approach the wagon. But the animals don't faze Mike.
He holds the thick, black reins firmly in his hands. "Hooo, Jim. Hooo, Dick," he calls out to the two large white draft horses pulling the wagon.
His feet pump a pair of round brake petals on the floor. Then he twists two oblong knobs that secure the wagon while it's stopped.
The small black Walkie-Talkie dangling from the right pocket of his denim shorts crackles as he points out an eland (an African antelope) with a bent horn to his passengers.
Mike is 10 and has been working at Wagon Trails Animal Park in Vienna since his family opened it three years ago.
"When I drive the wagon, people are so happy and they say 'thank you, thank you. You were so great,'" Mike explained on a recent weekend. "One lady gave me a dollar tip once."
His younger sister, Katie, 8, can drive the wagon too, although she prefers other chores.
"I know how [to drive the wagons], but it's just hard to hold the reins in. My hands get all red," she said.
Every summer, Mike and Katie offer extra help at the Animal Park. In addition to showing the customers around on the wagon, they also have to get water for the animals, feed the ponies, sweep the gazebos and fill the hay feeders.
Their work is a far cry from traditional summer jobs of cutting grass, scooping ice cream and flipping hamburgers.
Like Mike and Katie, other young people have also found summer jobs that are just a little bit ... um, unusual. They search convicted felons' homes for weapons, teach kids about sex and take baseball players to radio and television interviews.
And they say they would never trade their jobs for something more conventional, like delivering pizzas.
Evan Himes said he'd take his job at the Mahoning Valley Scrappers Field over his friends' jobs any day.
"One [friend] works for the township mowing grass and keeping maintenance. One works at the mall," he said. "You tell them 'I can't go out on a Saturday night because I have an appearance or call my cell phone because I have an appearance.' ... When you tell them what you do, they're like 'Wow, you talk to the players?' It doesn't compare to what they do."
Himes' co-worker, Jeff Meehan, agreed. He said he feels really lucky to work for a minor league baseball team, even though it often means working 12- or 14-hour days, especially game days.
"If you're having a bad day and you need a break, you just walk outside and see the stadium and realize how privileged you are," he said. "How can you complain when you work at a baseball stadium?"
Himes and Meehan work behind the scenes at the stadium to make sure everything runs smoothly.
That means they'll do anything from answering phones to working with large corporations for a sponsorship, from setting up Scrappy and player appearances to writing press releases, from gathering game statistics to setting up on-field activities.
Himes, who worked with the Scrappers last year as well, said he and another employee were then in charge of selecting people to sing the national anthem. He said would-be vocalists used to leave him voice mails singing the entire "Star Spangled Banner."
Himes and Meehan may work long hours for the Scrappers, but Katie Sherrard said she lives her job.
Sherrard works at Teen Straight Talk in Vienna and teaches adolescents and teen-agers about the importance of sexual abstinence.
Teaching a class
Sherrard is teaching a summer class based on a book about chastity called "And the Bride Wore White." She also often speaks to school or church groups about what she calls "the myth of safe sex -- there is no such thing."
And she is the first to admit she's saving herself for marriage. "I'm a virgin. I'm not afraid to say it."
She holds out her hand, revealing a gold diamond ring, similar to an engagement ring. The ring is a symbol of her vow to remain chaste until her wedding day.
"You cannot tell a kid, an adult even, that you do not live the message you're teaching," she said. "Then save the message."
But Sherrard, a junior at YSU, tells the students that just because she's a virgin doesn't mean she isn't subjected to the same temptations they are.
She said she tells them she has a boyfriend, whom she's dated for almost two years, "and I went to prom, and I had fun."
She said she wants others to see "the truth is there. If she can do it, why can't I?"
It's rewarding, she said, when her message reaches her audience. She recalled a Lock-in at Old North Church in Canfield in May. She said she did a very candid "rap session" with about 25 teen-age girls about sexual purity and self-respect.
"Afterward, every single one of them made a commitment" to wait until marriage, she said. "And it looked genuine. It wasn't like 'Oh my friends are doing it, so I will too."
Edward Glodde said he never knows what to expect at his job.
"There's no telling what you'll see here," he said of his work at the Adult Parole Authority on Gypsy Lane. He has the stories to prove it.
Glodde explained that those on parole have already been convicted of a crime, incarcerated and let out of prison. "The whole reason they do this is to make sure you don't re-offend," he said.
Sometimes, however, they do re-offend or violate their parole and are arrested, he said.
He said he saw one man who was being arrested ask to use the restroom. The arresting officer told him to wait until the paperwork was completed. By that time, Glodde said, the man, who was in his 40s, had urinated all over himself and the floor.
Glodde also takes part in a parole program called "Weed and Seed," in which he and the parole officers go to parolees' homes.
He said they "search for weapons or drugs or stuff they're not supposed to have."
Glodde admits that he enjoys the excitement of it. "I like that aspect of it -- going into people's homes," he said.
Glodde, a senior criminal justice major at YSU, said he doesn't even mind the paperwork. He fills out offender background investigation reports and reads cases on his down time.
"I didn't think I'd get this much education this quickly," he said. "You can't get this kind of stuff in a classroom."