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Storm cleanup gives teens extra work

‘Irene Teams’ help clear piles of debris in city

Some of the teens mobilized by the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino to help clean up after Irene. Some of the teens mobilized by the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino to help clean up after Irene. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / September 4, 2011

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Sitting on a bench in Malcolm X Park, De-andre Norman, 19, of Roxbury, pulled off his work gloves in exasperation.

“I don’t think this park is ever going to get clean,’’ said Norman, who was wearing a highlighter-yellow work shirt emblazoned with “City’s Clean Team’’ across the chest. “It’s going to be the same tomorrow,’’ he said, hanging his head, a few feet from a heap of twisted branches.

Nearby, Tracey Fils-Aime, 22, of Braintree, supervisor of the group, halted the attitude.

“We’re trying to do our part,’’ she said, while others around her swept, raked, and bagged debris, as one of seven teams fanned out across the city this weekend to clean up the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene.

“All we can do is try,’’ said Norman, grabbing a rake and heading back to work.

He was among thousands of teenagers who sought work this summer with city programs designed to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. But because of cuts in federal money and a delayed infusion of cash from the Legislature, about 2,000 teens who would have been employed for at least six weeks went without paychecks.

“There are plenty of teenagers ready to work,’’ said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, one of the five organizations that teamed with the city this weekend. “It’s just getting the adults together to organize it.’’

Dubbed Irene Teams, the work parties are filling a much-needed gap in services, letting the Parks Department focus on bigger problems while employing for one more weekend dozens of teenagers who need the paychecks.

“It’s a nice way to transition from the summer jobs program to the school year,’’ Sullivan said. “[Irene] wasn’t a tragedy, but it was a mess, as Boston goes.’’

That model was what brought Norman to the park in Roxbury. As an employee of Youth Options Unlimited through the summer, he worked seven weeks in all on cleanup projects, steady work that he said helped him focus on his next move: an eight-month jobs training program where he will learn plumbing skills, a trade he wants to pursue.

Others were working on the holiday weekend to make ends meet.

Kevin Gray, 20, of Dorchester, who is employed full time with the Boston Health Commission, said he was on vacation this week, but he decided that instead of putting his feet up he would make better use of his time.

A student at Bunker Hill Community College, Gray said he will probably work two jobs this year and juggle a full load of courses, all so he can soon attend a four-year college.

“Even if you’re a young man with no record, a good resume, and references,’’ he said, “it’s very tough. Very tough.’’

Until his education progresses, Gray, in a fluorescent shirt bearing the words “Good Night Irene’’ in bold across the back, said he was happy to pitch in until Tuesday when his classes resume.

“I’m making extra money, and helping out the city,’’ said Gray. “Somebody’s got to do it.’’

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com