LAGRANGE, Ga. -- When school is out for the summer months, it’s easy to understand how kids can get bored and look for things to keep them occupied. But for one local official, the reason behind a group of teens seeking out a way to stay busy made a big impact.
On July 27, head of the LaGrange Housing Authority Zsa Zsa Heard was working in her office, as she has for the last two years, when she was approached by four young teens asking for jobs.
When she asked why, she thought the boys would tell her they simply wanted to earn a few extra bucks for the summer. But, their actual answer shocked even her: “They revealed gang members were approaching them,” Heard said.
All of the young teens are between the ages of 13 and 14. And when she asked if gang members had tried to speak to them before, she was floored when one of the boys told her they’re approached “all the time.”
She said she hired Dylik, Dennis, Deion and Jalen immediately on the spot, no questions. After, she took to Facebook as a way to “empower the young men” for making the decision to come to her. The post has now been shared more than 300 times.
Heard said the four live on the housing authority property, and that this is not the first time the group has approached her about working for them, but she never understood why.
Last year, around the time of Thanksgiving and Christmas break, Heard said the boys came to her to ask if there was any work they could help with. She paired them with a maintenance worker at the facility, who showed them basic carpentry skills.
After the recent revelation, Heard said the group has stayed busy for the end of the summer – from helping in the community garden picking vegetables, tending to the community’s chicken coup or passing out mail and other deliveries.
"They will do whatever you ask them to do. Whatever you need, they will do it." As payment, Heard said the boys each have a prepaid card where they earn a few dollars for the chores they do.
And it appears the hands-on chores are already paying off – recently Heard said one expressed that after working in the garden, he’s become interested now in studying for a career working with livestock.
As for the response to her post, Heard said it’s been overwhelmingly positive.
“Several of their teachers (Facebook) inboxed me and told me what good kids they were,” she said. “They said if you give them the support they need, they are going to be successful.”
And Heard said that she is more than willing to give that support to the young teens.
"If they feel that they’re valuable, and if we show them how important they are, then we don’t risk losing them,” Heard told 11Alive News. "I don’t want them to seek the love and attention from the negative. I want them to find their value in other things."
The teens go back to school August 10, but Heard said moving forward, they will continue to have work in the future as long as they want it – for Thanksgiving break and other breaks. In addition, the boys will be added to a teen leadership and mentorship program, which will keep up with them throughout the year.