Cleaning parks isn't the easiest job. Nor is it much fun.
"It's OK, but it's a little boring," one 14-year-old girl said. "It's disgusting cleaning a bathroom."
Two other teen-age girls agreed. All three are in the Youth Employment and Supportive Services program operated by the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
"It's extremely hot out there," one said.
The girls' names are not being printed at the request of Bert Nash.
"It's not easy finding jobs for younger kids," said Ruby McDavis, jobs director for YESS. "Now we have quite a waiting list of youths who want jobs."
Several months ago the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department was approached by YESS about allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work cleaning up parks.
Parks officials agreed to pay minimum wage to six youths working from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Bert Nash hired two adult supervisors, or "coaches," to pick up the youths, take them to work and oversee them.
The program worked so well the parks department asked for more youths to work cleaning the parks during the week. But because of budget limitations, it could not pay the additional workers.
Thanks to a $90,000 federal grant through the Work Initiative Act, 15 more youngsters were hired. Plans call for a different 15 to be hired this fall for a winter work program, said Kent Hayes, YESS director at Bert Nash. The winter program also will include a homework study period.
Eventually, Hayes said, plans call for the city to take over funding.
Shea Logan, 26, a graduate sociology student at Kansas University, oversees one of the morning work groups. She is impressed with her charges' enthusiasm.
"They do a good job and they've been at it for several weeks. So it's no fluke," Logan said.
Logan is more than a supervisor. To some she's like a big sister.
"They like to talk about other things, and we'll talk about what they've been doing," she said. "It goes beyond just talking about work."
Some days Logan takes the youths to museums or on other educational field trips.
The city is pleased with the work, said Fred DeVictor, director of Lawrence Parks and Recreation.
"In the past there has been some difficulty or question about adult supervision, but the adult supervisors work really well with our staff in assigning jobs and doing what we need to have done," he said.
Pay day helps make cleaning bathrooms more bearable, the girls said. They usually spend the money on clothes or sometimes give some to their parents, they said.
None of the girls interviewed wanted to stay in the parks cleaning business. One said she wanted to be a doctor. Another plans to be a cosmetologist. A third said she wants to teach the deaf.