Public Information Director for DDOE, Alan Heymann, Responds to Claims of Mayor’s Youth Corps Vandalism

DDOE 08 2009 019

Ed. Note: Original reader’s name has been changed to “the reader” to maintain anonymity. The above photo was taken Mon. morning showing the Conservation Corps planting the replacement tree.

“Dear PoP,

The District Department of the Environment manages two summer youth job programs, The Mayor’s Green Summer Job Corps (green shirts) and the Mayor’s Conservation Corps (blue shirts). I appreciate the chance to respond to the reader’s concerns. I visited his home Friday along with the Mayor’s Conservation Corps site manager for Park View, Russell Fleming. We take allegations of vandalism (or any misbehavior) seriously, as these undermine one of major the goals of MCC — for the corps members to have a positive relationship with the community around them. We’re sorry to hear about the destruction of a piece of property that had sentimental value for one of our constituents.

Mr. Fleming interviewed all of the Park View corps members, and none has admitted to cutting down the reader’s crepe myrtle. The reader did not see the act take place, but heard about it from a neighbor whose name and address he did not know. I therefore had no way to verify what the neighbor saw. Nonetheless, as a gesture of good faith, DDOE has purchased a new crepe myrtle, and the students will plant it Monday morning with apologies to the reader.

With his larger point, however, I must disagree. Mayor Fenty and DDOE created the largest youth green-summer jobs training program in the country with the goal of giving young people in the District a meaningful, educational work experience. This is a first job for many of our youth. In addition to learning about invasive plant species and the impact of trash on an urban environment, the kids have received training about resume writing and interviewing, education about energy efficiency and conservation, a seminar on urban and park planning, and information about sexually-transmitted diseases (including an HIV test if desired). When the youth misbehave, as some in a group of thousands inevitably will, they’re subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination from the program. With regard to complaints about the corps members not actually working, it’s important for me to point out that they do take breaks during the work day, and depending on their age, are dismissed as early as 1 p.m. We do not require corps members to remove their blue shirts when they’re not on the clock. Nonetheless, anyone with a concern about the behavior of any of our students should contact us immediately — information is below.

If you ask any of the Conservation Corps members about what they’ve learned this summer, they’re likely to tell you they are now unlikely to cause litter themselves, and more likely to spread an anti-littering message to their friends during the school year, as a result of having walked the streets of the District picking up trash in the hot sun. Corps members have also worked extensively with community members on projects the constituents themselves have suggested — including a community garden on Capitol Hill that inspired one resident to write a piece for Hill Rag about it: Like the students in Laura Olson’s article, the vast and overwhelming majority of MCC members take great pride in their work. For example, our crew at MM Washington Career High School in Northeast has a scale, and the teams compete with each other to see how much trash they can pick up in a shift. Our DC General teams have a trash quota that they must meet every day.

In short, we want our kids to be busy, and we want them to do the right thing when they’re out in public representing our agency, our District Government, and our Mayor. PoP, if you or your readers have a project to suggest for MCC in the next two weeks, you can call us at (202) 596-4641 or email [email protected]. The same goes if you see a corps member in a blue shirt misbehaving.

For questions or concerns about the Mayor’s Green Summer Job Corps (green shirts), call (202) 535-2600 or email [email protected].


Alan Heymann

Director, Public Information

District Department of the Environment

45 Comment

  • The individual who cut down the tree was identified by name, and the other youth all said it was him. I could post his name, but won’t. Several people who live near by saw what happened, and saw the reaction of the so-called “supervisor” after the incident when they were being confronted.

    While it is not “my” tree, I am equally frustrated. I support the summer jobs program, but Alan is dyflecting the issue of supervision and making excuses.

  • I fostered and trained a guide dog puppy when I was in high school. The dog had a little coat that he wore during training session and while we were out in public. Even as a little guy, he associated the coat with work time, and behaved much better while he was wearing it. When I took the coat off, it was your usual puppy hijinks.

    Seems to me that the kids should only wear the shirts while they’re on the clock. Perhaps they would come to associate the uniform with the job and its responsibilities. Otherwise, it’s just another freebie from the government with no importance attached to it.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    @Anon I was talking about the name of the original PoP reader who wrote in about the incident.

  • Frankly, it’s not terribly shocking that the kid(s) who did it wouldn’t actually fess up to it when confronted.

  • Alan Heymann is a coward if he won’t be a man and resign over this issue. He’s a coward and I will write to the Mayor demanding the Mayor act.

    The original poster needs to call the TV stations about this. Alan Heymann must resign and I will not stop until he does or is exposed as the coward he is.

  • Alan Heymann is a coward if he won’t be a man and resign over this issue. He’s a coward and I will write to the Mayor demanding the Mayor act.

    I am furious.

  • Why is everyone so anonymous on this blog. How hard is it to make up a name so we can differentiate between all the anonymous postings here?

    Anon 11:14, it doesn’t sound like an excuse as much as a fact of life. When it comes time to name names, people don’t want to because they like living in an anonymous world. Apparently, the complainant didn’t want to get others involved but just wanted to vent.

    I hope the anti-littering education sinks in. It absolutely blows my mind how often I see people (especially kids, but Maryland commuters as well) littering for no reason, often with trash cans nearby. I hope it works. How will the mayor evaluate the success of the program to see if it has had any long term impact?

  • Wow Neener. How about some perspective here?

  • Why is Alan Heymann a “coward?” That’s a pretty harsh assessment. I’m not taking anyone’s side in this, I feel very sad for the owner of the tree and I have some issues with the response. But Heymann is a public information official relaying information, not a supervisor or the creator of this particular summer jobs program.

    The concern I still have is that I’m still unsure how well these kids are supervised in their work.

  • Um. Neener I think you have officially lost it. Its a tree. when trying to teach wayword youth a thing or two I think some hiccups are expected. this tree being one of them. better he cut down a tree and not a person. Alan for what it’s worth seems to have responded a lot quicker than most gov officials. And is replacing the tree to boot. Par for the course in the DC GOV would just be ignoring the problem all together. Alan should be given sme credit here.

  • I was playing tennis two weeks ago at the Adams Morgan courts and roughly 20 members of the BLUE shirts were literally sitting under the shade doing nothing, WHILE blasting music and sitting on the courts. This took place for about two hours. One poor girl did do a ton of gardening. I felt pretty bad for her. The rest could care less.

  • Neener,
    Dude chill. Heymann showed some balls responding on the site. Cut him some slack, the tree was replaced.

  • I am so outraged too.
    Heymann should subject the Park View Corps kids to intensive interrogation techniques until he finds the culprit of Myrtle-gate.
    He then should force the youth to legally change his/her name to Myrtle, paint him/her grayish-brown to match the tree, and then force them to stand in the tree’s spot with leaves in his/her hands until the tree grows back to its 5-year height.
    Oh, and the youth can only eat water and dirt.

  • In my opinion, Mr. Heymann should spend the rest of his life in prison. It’s all about accountability people!! Wake up!!!

  • Yeah, Neener, Jesus. You seriously need to take a couple of steps back from the brink and relax.

    Heymann didn’t say that he wouldn’t hold anyone accountable if he learned who was responsible. He just took a proactive step to replace the tree without even having that information, as a showing of good faith. How is that not a good thing?

  • either way, someone needs to let mr. heymann know that mm washington is located in truxton circle in northwest, not northeast.

  • Not to perpetuate the hating on this program but I see these kids all the time in Truxton Circle. A lot of them sit around the abandoned school on O Street, they throw their food trash on the curb and do everything but clean.

    Personally, I find them a little intimidating. Let’s be honest a group of 8-10+ kids swearing and engaging in other inappropriate and rough behavior is a little scary. I don’t see the benefits of letting them walk around the city without a chaperone to supervise. I find it hard to believe that you cannot get a bunch of college kids/city year/green peace volunteers to act as counselors.

  • “Mayor Fenty and DDOE created the largest youth green-summer jobs training program in the country with the goal of giving young people in the District a meaningful, educational work experience. This is a first job for many of our youth.”

    No better way to indoctrinate our youth to the notion that they should be receiving checks from the government for mediocre/minimal work.

    The program should be run as follows: local businesses apply for the program. DC Govt picks the best opportunities and fills them with the kids. Kids get paid by the DC Govt, but only if the employer finds the work satisfactory. The employer can deny them pay, cut their pay, or dismiss them. Imagine what that sort of program would teach our kids! Instead of having them wonder around the streets not doing much of anything from what I’ve seen.

  • For a summer with TWO youth environmental program, I have never seen DC as DIRTY AND LITTERED as it is at present. It’s filthy. I was walking with my daughter down 16th Street, NW yesterday in MtP and there was a piece of trash present at every step of the way – wahter bottle, fast food bags, product packaging – every piece of refuse imaginable. And of course, it’s not just here. It’s a deplorable, especially if we supposedly have a “mobilized” and paid forces dedicated to keeping the city clean. Disgusting.

  • young people are really bad things.

  • Jobs programs keep DC elected officials elected, don’t expect them to be eliminated or reformed in our lifetimes.

    I don’t mind paying DC teens to do nothing though. Nothing keeps them from doing something, something like killing each other and endangering others. I’d rather they cut down a thousand trees than murder anybody else. I’d wager that if the Mayor could develop a program that paid each and every teen in DC ten thousand dollars to never shoot a gun or stab a person again, it would be $ well spent and a program well supported.

  • All that being said, it was a well written letter.

  • What a waste of taxes this program is. Why not write a check to all of these useless little thugs and let them stay in their own neighborhoods rather than trucking them across town so they can vandalize other people’s property? Good work Mr. Heymann.

  • Give them something to do??? There’s an unending amount of litter even if you just went to playgrounds, trees that desperately need watering, school buildings that need painting. But even better, how about some job training to introduce some real job skills? Or study skills, like using a PC or the library to write a research paper?

  • It sounds like part of the program does involve teaching them some of those skills. And I think the program is *supposed* to work the way dcpublius describes, but who knows. It sounds like that’s not really happening.

    I am *not* making excuses for examples of these kids acting out, taking pictures of little kids on the playground, chopping down trees, etc…but I wonder how much incentive they have to do anything good when they’re still going to be looked at as intimidating, “useless little thugs.” Teens tend to do some extremely knuckleheaded things, especially when they’re in groups egging each other on. There need to be appropriate consequences for that. But I worry about the broad brush thing.

    And I agree with everyone who has said there needs to be more/better supervision.

  • Christina: the proper response to being “painted with a broad brush” is to work extra hard to fight against that distinction. In turn, the person receives additional dignity and self-respect for their trouble. If someone suggests that it might be a viable excuse to be a f-up, what do you think will happen?

  • @dcpublius has a good point. The program should be teaching RESPONSIBILITY and CONSEQUENCES. (Of course, it seems like most parents aren’t doing that, nor are the schools. . . so how much can we expect?? Of course, if you expect nothing, you get nothing.)

    Also, I regularly take my kids to Kennedy Rec Center (6th & P NW) in the morning. There are usually 20+ blue shirted teens there, sitting around chatting ON THE PLAY EQUIPMENT for the whole hour that I’m there. And I have to ask that they move so the kids can actually play. All the while I’m picking up trash around the playground. VERY frustrating.

  • “Christina: the proper response to being “painted with a broad brush” is to work extra hard to fight against that distinction. ”

    Sure, I guess, but do you really think teens have got that figured out? Were you that much on the ball when you were younger? I don’t think I was.

    I’m not suggesting that these kids should get a pat on the head and a “boys will be boys” brush off (though I think that if they were middle class and/or white, they might get that.) There needs to be appropriate punishment, better supervision (maybe a whole restructuring of the program, I don’t know) AND a little bit less of the “they’re all thugs!” hysteria from those of us who are adults and have some perspective.

  • “Sure, I guess, but do you really think teens have got that figured out? Were you that much on the ball when you were younger? I don’t think I was.”

    Well now you’re saying the kids are too dumb to do any better. Think about the implications of saying that. I know you mean well, but this attitude is as harmful as the one you’re criticizing.

  • A few comments:
    these kids don’t get much structure/discipline at home or at school, yet somehow when they don those blue shirts we expect them to reform into perfect angels. not going to happen…these are urban teens asked to do menial work. they don’t like it any more than anyone else would. and they’re teens. teenagers. kids….

    also, this summer job program takes any and all kids. finding enough people to supervise 20,000 kids for the summer is a tall order. and where do we think we can get adequate training and education for that many kids?

    and don’t forget the old “one bad apple” saying. i bet MOST of these kids would do a moderate amount of work and show some effort. but i know how easy it is for the few rotten apples to spoil anything worthwhile.

    this could be a decent jobs program if there were better ways to weed out the bad apples and enough planning to create meaningful work that would benefit the kids AND the community…

  • I *do* think teens are a little bit dumb. They are dumber the younger they are 🙂 The implications of my thoughts, I believe, is that I don’t judge the actions of teens and kids by exactly the same standards I use to judge the actions of adults. Do you?

    I said that teens can do some knuckleheaded things, and that it’s wrong to paint them *all* with a broad brush based on the behavior of knuckleheads. That’s all. I wasn’t saying that these particular alleged tree-choppers deserve a pass — I’ve said about a million times that there needs to be appropriate punishment for what they did; I don’t know how much more clear I can be on that score. Appropriate punishment is one of the ways you learn about life. Without that guidance, you can’t grow or learn about fighting extra hard against broad-brush distinctions.

    But teens also deserve a little space to do that learning without being immediately discarded as “useless little thugs.” Not that they can NEVER learn how to do better. But that they have to be taught, sometimes, how to do better.

    I’m stopping now lest this turn into a thread-jack.

  • Am I missing something? The owner of the tree doesn’t see it get cut down but says his neighbor saw it, but doesn’t know his neighbor’s name or address? Seriously? I live near the Park View Rec Center. If I write a post claiming that one of my neighbors, whose name and address I don’t know, saw a kid in a blue or green shirt picking at the decaying cement on my front porch, can I get the City to redo my whole porch gratis?

  • It seems to me that the people who organized this program are a little naive. Ask any high school teacher, and they’ll tell you that kids this age need to be supervised, supervised, supervised. If you let them wander around on their own, they’re going to do whatever the hell they want to do.
    I don’t see anything wrong with asking kids to do menial work. How else are they going to realize that if they don’t pay attention in school, do what they’re told, and follow the rules, they are going to be doing menial work for the rest of their lives.

    All in all, Mr. Heymann’s response is very frustrating. It basically boils down to: Nobody saw it happen, so we’re not going to blame anybody. Here’s a replacement tree so that you stop making an issue out of the whole thing.

  • @marcus:
    hmmm, well it would be a good scam.
    did the resident say that tree was 5 years old? it sure looked small for that age….and in the picture there are two little stumps, but only one dead tree. and the tree stem looks like a different color than the stump. hmmm, it would be a good scam….

  • @anonymous 3:40
    well, absent an identified culprit what exactly can be done to “blame” anyone!? blame EVERYONE? that seems to be the common theme here — these “little thugs” are making trouble so blame all of them and the city and Allen Haymen and anyone else. i think it was a good gesture to replace the tree, for crying out loud. and really, unless an individual gets caught they can’t very easily be punished…

  • We need to ask if these activities really prepare our youth for real world private sector jobs? -Results oriented productive jobs where there is an expectation of comportment, purposeful activity, and subsequent individual reward for a job well done, instead of this “aimlessly” wandering group activity.

    Character building team player experiences at this age are better learned in competitive sports activities or in music (band or choir), and dramatic art productions whether on stage or in lighting and sound.

    So few comments have taken on how the writer’s own personal work experience when a young teenager mowing lawns, as a stock boy and handyman with real world private sector jobs may well have helped better prepared a future adult citizen and subsequent contributing D.C. property owner.

    Current excessive reliance and expectations on elected officials and the public sector has become far too much, illusionary and self destructive with a collective and increasingly false sense of entitlement on the parents and sadly more the kids themselves.

    While the loss of this flowering street tree is sad, what it so much more sad is the loss of yet another generation of misguided kids to this collective illusionary up bringing without greater emphasis on individual interest, talent seeking, growth, development, and responsibility.

  • Clearly there aren’t enough supervisors if this sort of thing is happening. Why not pare the program back and enough college students to supervise with some of the money? While college students may not know their behind from a hole in the ground, it appears that at least some of the current participants in the Mayor’s program haven’t even gotten far enough to locate either consistently.

  • this summer job program takes any and all kids. finding enough people to supervise 20,000 kids for the summer is a tall order.

    It is a tall order. And if they can’t fulfill that tall order, they should cut down on the size of the program until all of the participants can be properly supervised.

  • Just got home from work to find my own little tree cut down. It, too, is laying on its side next to the little stump. So far I haven’t had any neighbor tell me s/he saw who did it, but then everyone’s in out of the heat right now. Having read the original post about the tree and then this follow-up earlier today, I immediately thought of the wandering band of youths as the culprit, but who knows? It still sucks to have our *currently and actively flowering* tree cut down so early in its life. And it sucks more to know that somebody did it just . . . because. WTF?! Why cut down a flippin’ tree?!

  • It’s a shame that the efforts of the conservation corp are not shaping up to expectation — however high or low those expectations are. I can imagine that building and running a successful program from the ground up comes with a fair number of lessons to learn from all sides. In this case, Alan and the DOE acted swiftly and thoughtfully to repair the damage done to both the tree and the corp. It’s a bigger shame that Alan’s job and reputation have been thrown under the bus by a few readers who likely don’t even know him or the numerous ways he works to bring positive change to DC. Would you really want someone who works hard each day to make the city a better place to be fired or quit? Good grief.

  • Thanks for adding the picture of the kids and the tree here, PoP. It’s very humanizing.

  • Eight people to plant a tree … hmm, I guess the program is at least preparing these kids for jobs in DC construction. 😉

  • I want to comment on two things:

    Mr Heyman responded to the email in an appropriate manner, apologized for the actions of others and relayed the issues of supervision with the appropriate DDOE employee
    He did his job as the Public Information Officer – He gave the public the information they wanted in reference to the 1 issue.

    The resident has issues with a group of kids being in his neighborhood. It is clear to see they do not want kids playing music, walking down the block looking thugged out and being loud. That is understandable I fully agree but what about the kids that are planting trees, what about the supervisors that are actually supervising their staff, or what about the parents of these children. The are in this program for a couple of hours each day and in those couple of ours you are expected DDOE staff to teach the girls how to be young women and the boys how to be men. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE>>>>>>>>> My first summer job was down the street from my house at Langdon Rec. I could not act up because everyone on my block would tell my parents the community raised the kids. So instead of complaining about what DDOE is or is not doing what are you going to do as tax paying residents of DC. When I am at lunch and I see them standing around hanging in McDonalds I am a female I say something to them and threaten to call DDOE. I have seen police officers asking kids where is there worksite. This is a TEAM/COMMUNITY effort if your neighbor so the tree get cut down call DDOE and give the information instead of blogging or gossiping about it like we are in high school. I commend George Hawkins, Alan Heyman and Mayor Fenty for putting the youth of DC back to work. Now the parents of the youth of DC need to do their job.

  • I wish the city would pay me to smoke cigarettes, eat Rita’s and generally hangout all summer.

  • Geezer~ I live at that junction and for the life of me can’t figure out why the aversion to the trash cans. (those bricks are so nasty) Some older workers do come & clean up, but I’d appreciate if the kids conserve by helping out.

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