PHOTO: GA teens ask for jobs to avoid gang violence

GA teens ask for jobs to avoid gang violence

LAGRANGE, GA (WTVM) – The heart of four boys and their desires not to be swept up in growing gang violence in their Georgia town has spread across social media – and all they wanted to do was work.

In a Facebook post made by LaGrange Housing Authority CEO Zsa Zsa Heard on July 27, she wrote they the boys – who call themselves the Ninja Turtles – were adamant about finding work before the summer ended.

The four teens – Deion, Dennis, Dylik, and Jalen – have been asking for jobs around the LaGrange Housing Authority since last summer. Heard said that the boys would consistently ask for work, but she figured they just wanted some extra money.

Heard said the boys, who are 13 and 14 years old, asked for work because they wanted to stay out of trouble – including the growing gang activity invading their community.

"I asked them if gang members ever tried to approach them and one of them said, 'all the time,'," Heard said.

Heard wrote in her post:

I want Facebook to empower these young men they walked into my office today and asked for a job. I said why do you want a job? They said so we want to get in trouble and we do not want to be in a gang! I said to have people approached you about being in a gang they said yes ma'am! I hired them on the spot! The streets will not have our children!#ILOVELHACHILDREN

She said it was then that she knew they should be put to work immediately. Since then, they've been paired with the housing authority's maintenance man, Mr. Pickney, and working on the buildings, in the community's garden and chicken coop, and even have them working on a building project.

The boys are paid on a prepaid debit card and have been using their earnings on clothes and supplies they'll need for the upcoming school year.

Heard said that the teen's parents have been incredibly grateful and supportive of the experience. She also said that the boy's teachers have sent messages saying how great the boys are.

"One teacher said all one of the boys' talks about is becoming an attorney - so we're using this experience to show them they could work toward anything and accomplish it," Heard said.

Since making the post, Heard said the support on Facebook has been overwhelmingly positive.

The boys start back to school on Aug. 10, but she said she would permit the boys to work whenever they could – on school breaks after they've finished their homework, whenever they wanted to work.

"If we don't capture them now, we'll lose them," Heard said. "I don't want them to feel like they aren't valuable enough that they need to seek a gang. We want them to know that just because they were born that they are valuable."

She said the LaGrange Housing Authority has an outreach and leadership program that the boys will also be enrolled in, and wants to connect them with other older teens to help continue their positive growth.

West Georgia Star, the resident service arm of the LaGrange Housing Authority, also has a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for children in the community.

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