Thanks to a program in Maywood, our Public Works Department received a boost in manpower and 10 young men landed their first jobs. “Every year we hire summer help,” Director Sal Stella explained, “Summer is very busy for us.” 

The problem this summer was no one applying to work for Public Works. 

Stella believed the problem was that Forest Park pays only $12 per hour, while the neighboring communities pay $15. Fortunately, the Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA) pays their participants $15 per hour. This pay scale attracted 16-year-old boys to apply for jobs at PLCCA. They met with Executive Director Claudette Harrell and were assigned to positions at Public Works. This was a win-win for the village, because PLCCA was responsible for their paychecks.

And they weren’t village employees, so the teenagers were not allowed to drive the Public Works vehicles or operate the heavy equipment. Their duties included keeping the Public Works facility clean, pulling weeds and picking up trash along the major thoroughfares. “Trash is insane in the village,” Stella declared. “I don’t have the manpower to keep up with it.”

The 10 started work in June. The the village hired Lincoln Smith, a Proviso East coach and teaching aide, to supervise the students. Smith already knew half the boys from coaching and teaching them at the high school. “I had a great time with them,” Smith recalled. He also acted as their mentor. “They had to be on time, bring a lunch and learn a good work ethic.”

Starting time was 7 a.m. and none of the boys drove. So they took the Roosevelt Road bus and walked to 16th and Circle. “It was their first job and they learned to work with their hands,” Stella recalled. “They were very respectful and motivated.” Their hours were 7 to noon, June 1 to Sept. 1, 2022. 

“They did a great job,” Smith recalled. “Sal was the perfect boss. He would find a work site each day and tell them what to do. We will do this again every summer if possible.” Stella also plans to use summer help from PLCCA next summer. In the meantime, Public Works gained a volunteer from Opportunity Knocks.

Will Schumacher, 19, is part of the Community Integrated Transition Education program (CITE) at Oak Park and River Forest High School. His teacher, Megan Kennedy, conducts classes at the River Forest Community Center, where Opportunity Knocks is headquartered. Schumacher is the rare individual who has a passion for street sweepers. He works a two-hour shift every Wednesday morning at Public Works, cleaning the streets of Forest Park.

Schumacher uses a broom but also gets to see the street sweepers in action. “I love street sweepers,” Schumacher declared. “They have brushes, spray water and clean the streets.” He even wears a T-shirt bearing a street sweeper slogan, “That’s how I roll,” he said proudly. Last year, for his birthday, Schumacher visited Public Works and sat on a street sweeper. 

For his next birthday, Schumacher is visiting Elgin Sweeping Services in Chicago, followed by a tour of the Vienna Beef company. “I love hot dogs,” he said. He also loves books and libraries and works as a volunteer at the Willard Elementary School library in River Forest. Schumacher will have a jobs coach at Public Works and the library but can eventually become independent. He will continue to volunteer throughout the year.

CITE places special needs students in mainstream employment positions. PLCCA gives kids their first jobs. This is fortunate for Public Works because they can really use the extra help. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.