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Teens gain experience, cash

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Ranger Tanesha Reed, 17, spends some time with 5-year-old Meguire Smith in Walbridge Park.

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Seventeen-year-old Brenton Emmanuel of South Toledo says he could have spent the summer like his friends - none of whom have jobs.

Waking up around noon, hanging around the house, maybe shooting some hoops to kill boredom and time.

But rather than sleeping in, Brenton, who wears his T-shirts extra-large and his sweatpants rolled to the knee, spends his mornings tidying Highland Park in South Toledo.

When the park fills with children in the afternoon, he organizes games of dodgeball, soccer, and other activities.

Some of the youngsters have low-income backgrounds, and he helps serve those children a free lunch, courtesy of Feed Lucas County Children Inc.

Brenton is one of 80 teenagers in Toledo's new Park Ranger program, a six-week summer-employment program for city youth ages 16 to 19 that kicked off June 19. A pair of rangers is assigned to 40 of the city's busiest parks for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Each teen ranger is paid the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner came up with the idea, which is based on a similar program that was in place decades ago.

The goal is to keep youths busy while teaching them job skills and money management, said Dwayne Morehead, co-executive director of the city's Youth Commission.

The rangers also perform a valuable service.

"They're kind of the extra eyes and ears in the community for that park." Mr. Morehead said.

The program is financed through a portion of about $1.7 million in federal poverty funds obtained by Lucas County through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Not everyone can become a park ranger. Rangers must come from families whose income is twice the poverty level or less, or a maximum of $40,000 annually for a family of four.

For nearly three-quarters of the rangers - including Brenton - it's the first job they've ever had, said program leader Corey Tucker. Overseeing the rangers are six college-age supervisors.

When his work day ends at 6 p.m., Brenton said he hangs out with his friends without jobs. A few seem envious.

"Some of them were like, 'So you work in the parks? Aw, man, I wish I would have signed up.'●"

The city received about 300 applications for the 80 ranger positions, so the teenagers had to go through an interview process, Mr. Morehead said.

The first question they were asked was, "Do you love children?"

Tanesha Reed and Natasha Minniefield, 17-year-olds who will be seniors this fall at Rogers High School, said they learned about the program from their school counselor.

Since the two teenagers began working as rangers at Walbridge Park near the Toledo Zoo, they have refereed and organized numerous games of volleyball, football, kickball, and tag, and held workshops on braiding beaded necklaces and bracelets.

The job's hardest part, they said, is finding ways to get energy-filled youngsters to pay attention.

For Justine Childress, 17, a ranger at Smith Park in the central city, the challenge is often keeping up.

"We've got kids who can play for the whole eight hours we're out here," she said with exasperation.

Yet the real excitement happens when the work day is over. That's when Justine said her friends who don't have a summer job try going shopping - with her hard-earned paycheck.

"They think they can spend my money," she said, "but they have another thing coming."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com or

419-724-6050.

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