AIKEN - Two summers ago, Billy Tucker, then 17, waited in line to fill a backpack sprayer with weed killer.
He was a member of the Urban Youth Corps, a crew of summer workers hired under a federal grant administered by the Department of Transportation. They maintain the beauty of Aiken's landscaped medians.
Mr. Tucker progressed in the program. He went on to a full-time job with the city's Public Works Department, attending night school at Aiken Technical College.
Kenny Cook, the assistant public works director, said the program is meant to encourage future employment in transportation-related jobs such as roadside maintenance.
This summer, Mr. Tucker is sharing his experience with a small group of Urban Youth Corps workers.
"We have one city worker (Mr. Tucker) who works with us, but basically we're all on the same level," said Noel Solomon, a University of South Carolina junior and three-year veteran of the youth corps.
Dressed in yellow T-shirts that say "WHOA," for "We're Helping Out Aiken," high school and college students staff the corps at $7 an hour.
Each day begins at 7 a.m. and, for those working under public works, consists of planting flowers, weeding and watering flower beds and mowing.
Other corps workers paint fire hydrants.
"We are absolutely keeping these young people busy," said Public Works Director Larry Morris. "We want them pretty visible out there."
On Friday, Aiken High School senior Willie Crafton and South Aiken School senior Mychl Newbill did a trash run because the holiday left the department short-staffed.
"It's a good way to make money during the summer, and it keeps us out of trouble," Mychl said.
Mrs. Solomon says the work gives her more responsibility and freedom than most summer jobs.
"It's better than working in retail," she said. "We're keeping Aiken neat for in-town people, horse people and out-of-town people."
Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.