While preparing teenagers who are in the juvenile justice system for a successful return to society, Carl Matthews had an idea. He created a program, called The Grass is Greener, to provide biweekly lawn mowing services for Washington, D.C., residents who, because of age or disabilities, are no longer up to that task.
“I have a checkered past myself, so I know what it feels like to want forgiveness,” says Matthews, the supervisor of facilities at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a secure, highly structured residential rehabilitation facility for (per the preferred terminology) court-involved youth. “I know these kids need the opportunity to be seen in a different light so they can heal.”
"We believe that our young people can be restored to the community, and what better way to do that than to connect with elders."
A treatment team at New Beginnings vets the young men who could be candidates for the program by considering their behavior, temperament and interest in working with equipment. The participating teenagers are mostly between the ages of 15 and 17 and are nearing the end of their time at the center.
Homeowners in need of lawn care services who can’t afford to hire a company or private crew are recommended by the D.C. Office of Aging and local neighborhood advisory commissions. Matthews receives far more requests than he can accommodate and is reluctant to overextend his operation.
“If we can only bless 20 families, then we give them the best we have,” he says.
Being part of the crew provides the teenagers with a marketable skill and work experience to include on a resume. One former participant got a job with the grounds crew at Nationals Park, the home ballpark for the Washington Nationals. Matthews brings in a professional landscaping crew each summer to meet with the program participants and offer tips.
Matthews quickly dismisses any notion that the homeowners might be fearful of having youth offenders working in their yards.
“They bring them water, they come out front and say hello, they scold them like their mas do,” he says of The Grass is Greener’s clients. “They tell them to go to school and do the right thing. There’s no fear in this.”
New Beginnings is a part of D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), whose director, Clinton Lacey, said about the program, "We believe that our young people can be restored to the community, and what better way to do that than to connect with elders."
This article is adapted from the "Build Housing for All Ages" chapter of the AARP publication Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples from America’s Community Leaders (2018 edition). Download or order your free copy.
Article by Rick Remington | Page published March 2019
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