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Byline: Stefan Verbano The Register-Guard

Community service. Job training. A paycheck. That's all it took to get a troupe of local teens to spend a week of their summer vacations pulling weeds in the middle of a soggy field in west Eugene.

Undismayed by the intermittent rain, five members of the Lane-Metro Youth Corps - a two-decade-old vocational training program offered through Looking Glass' Riverfront School and Career Center - spread out across a broad swath of Bureau of Land Management property Monday and Tuesday to remove invasive plant species. Students from the alternative school and other youth were allowed to sign up for the paid eight-week work crew earlier in the year, looking for work experience and a steady summer job.

Stomping across the swampy land located at the western boundary of the West Eugene Wetlands off Isabelle Street, crew members scanned the knee-high grass for non-native plants such as tansy, thistle, St. John's wort, Scotch broom and blackberry brambles. The work helps assure that native plants - including Kincaid's lupine, which attracts the endangered Fender's blue butterfly - can survive and thrive.

Two crew members on Tuesday wielded weed whackers, negotiating with unruly shrubs and the occasional ash and hawthorn sapling. Revving one of the machines was 17-year-old Morgan Stevenson.

"This is the best summer job ever," Stevenson said. "You are doing something good for the community (and) helping to make Oregon beautiful."

Not far away, fellow corps member Tanner Murphy scoured the ground and removed plants by hand - what he called "industrial weeding" - because at age 15 he was deemed too young to use power tools.

"It's a good summer job even when it's raining," Murphy said. "I get three days off every week and I get a paycheck. That's all I need."

The corps members' wages are partially funded by program sponsors: public and private agencies such as the BLM, Eugene Water & Electric Board, Oregon State Marine Board and local offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S Forest Service. Most commonly, workers put their pay toward living expenses and college tuition.

The Riverfront School is one of 11 programs offered by Looking Glass, a social service agency established in 1970 that offers counseling, educational, vocational and residential services to thousands of young people and their families each year.

Calling the shots on Tuesday was Breckon Neat, the work crew's leader with the Riverfront School.

"I've always been really amazed with this crew," Neat said. "They are all very into it. They are here and they want to work."

During the school year, Neat works as a math and physics teacher at Network Charter School in Eugene.

"This is a summer gig for me as well," he said.

Riverfront program director Cheryl Zwillinger said the corps' summer program offers young workers money and experience, while simultaneously providing sponsors with labor that they otherwise couldn't afford. "It's definitely a win-win," Zwillinger said. "It gives the kids hands-on experience. We want it to be like a real job."

Joe Simons, a plant biologist with BLM, helped the corps members identify the unwanted plants as part of the program's educational component.

But the program is also about giving the kids something to work toward. "It's more about them coming out and having a summer job and doing something that's worthwhile," Simons said.

Looking Glass is a social service agency established in 1970 that offers 11 different programs involving counseling, educational, vocational and residential services to thousands of young people and their families each year.
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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 20, 2011
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