Contract issues jeopardize SFPUC summer program

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In about a week, hundreds of San Francisco teenagers will be ready to start a job-training program -- a program that targets at-risk students. But the agency that funds it has yet to come up with a new contract -- putting the program in jeopardy.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has 1,400 acres of land that surrounds the city's water sheds. Someone has to maintain all the land. Years ago the SFPUC reached out to the sheriff's department to help form a program to hire at-risk students during the summer to do the work. They were picked by unlikely agencies.

"People in the sheriff's department, the PUC, community organizations, identifying kids that obviously need a chance," project spokesperson Catherine Sneed said.

The people already working are college students and staff who will supervise the younger ones. The program is called the Garden Project Earth Stewards Program.

"It's going to tell me I am going to be able to have management skills one day and be able to supervise more people in the future," participant Umique Shaikh said.

They work during the summer, Monday through Friday four hours a day, earning $11 an hour. Some use the money to help their families with the rent or with food.

In addition, there's an opportunity to learn more than just gardening skills.

"So we bring them in for 45 minutes when they are working, sit them down, do a business class or college prep class or leadership class and send them back out again," Director of Education John Austin said.

But the program funded by the SFPUC has hit a snag. A new contract has yet to be finalized. If they don't get a new contract, the program will end after June. But the SFPUC hopes to get it completed by the start of summer.

"Yes, that is our plan," spokesperson Tyrone Jue said. "We plan to explore every avenue possible to make sure we can have the funding mechanism in place to help at risk youth work on our water sheds, cleaning out sheds because it's a great service."

The people who work on the program spoke of the need to keep kids busy.

"If you don't have nothing to do, most likely you hang out on the street and most likely trying to find a way to make money and most of the time it's not legal," participant Rolando Hill said.

The SFPUC contributes nearly $500,000 to the program.
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