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Teen tag team cleans up.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

Rarely, if ever, does a group of teenagers gathered around a wall spattered with spray paint symbolize virtuous activity.

Unless they're cleaning it up.

Equipped with rollers and brushes, members of the county Department of Youth Services Graffiti Removal Team can handle just about anything a tagger can toss at a wall - and it costs the property owners nothing.

Paid for by a $45,000 grant from the Oregon Youth Authority aimed at gang prevention, the program provides paid positions to at-risk juveniles ages 12 to 19 who have been through the justice system.

Twice a week, teams of eight youths tackle trouble spots at no charge, doing work that can cost as much as $750 a day, depending on the size of the job.

"The community gets the chance to have their neighborhood restored, and the kids get to learn to take responsibility and accountability for their actions," said Matthew Sterner, the county project's coordinator. "They also learn about having and keeping a job, about bank accounts ... those are things that I think ultimately benefit our community even more."

The team first formed two years ago with another grant, and ended when its funding ran out, Sterner said. Clients' responses were so favorable that the department reapplied for the grant, but barring any additional funding sources, the team will disband July 1.

Twice a week, the teens travel as far as Oakridge and Florence, removing graffiti at the request of businesses, government and property owners.

Thursday was devoted to Cottage Grove, where vandals' tags had piled up along a cement barrier on Kalapuya Way.

Bringing in the team was a natural choice, said Cottage Grove youth peer court coordinator Al Jarvis, who was charged by Police Chief Mike Grover to find a solution to the graffiti. Without the crew, he would have had to call in the city's stretched public works department, he said.

"We have quite a bit of it that needs to be covered," Jarvis said. "When it stays up there, it serves as a magnet for more graffiti. I think we maybe need to look at (starting) the same thing here."

Youth are referred to the team, for both paid and community service positions. New hires begin at minimum wage but can receive performance-based pay increases of a quarter every three weeks, earning up to $8.80 an hour.

Some are singled out to become crew leaders, a position that 16-year-old Cory Newton said has taught him better communication and leadership skills, he said.

"I would have learned them further on down the road, but not at this age," Newton said. "But I think it's a good thing that I learned them now."

Newton said he saving his pay for a car and college.

Crew member Michael Paddock, 17, said he was never bothered by graffiti, although he never did it himself.

Now, however, he occasionally catches himself saying, "Dude, I gotta clean that up later."

Not that he minds too much: "It's good work: It's not easy, but it's not super hard," Paddock said. "I like the people I work with, and you get paid all right."

GRAFFITI REMOVAL

Department of Youth Services will take care of any job for free in Lane County. Call 682-7905
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 22, 2007
Words:546
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