Work program teaches teens valuable lessons

CHAMPAIGN — 75 pushups.

That was the penalty for not shaking their boss' hand and saying good night as Terrace Davis and Trevon Adams left work at the Tire Barn earlier this summer. It's something they, Jamal Karil and Damien Lyons are required to do every day.

The pushups were tough, too, after a day of stacking tires. When the truck tires come in and it's 100 degrees outside, the four Champaign high school students working at the Tire Barn under the taxpayer-funded summer jobs program are not exactly loving the $8.25 they make per hour.

Maybe it's about more than the money.

They're more talkative now, observes Tire Barn owner Allen Jenkins, who watches while the kids stack their last tires on their last day of work Friday. They barely said a word on their first day six weeks ago. And when they did, Jenkins had to ask them to speak up because they were practically whispering.

They know how to change a tire now, too. Jenkins knows he can put them in with any of the guys working in the garage and they'd be able to pick it up like they have been working there for months.

Jenkins has been watching them grow into their jobs all summer. Now, on their last day, he leaves them alone to work because they don't always need his watchful eye any more.

Tires roll around a storage deck above the Tire Barn garage as the four finish reorganizing the stacks of rubber. Tire Barn has about 3,000 tires in stock, and the kids have touched almost every single one.

Wayne Colson, one of the more experienced workers, interrupts. He needs a Solus 210-43-63 tire, and instead of looking for it, he just asks Terrace, who immediately points to the Soluses. Damien finds the right measurement seconds later.

"See how efficient he is?" Colson says.

It's less than an hour until the end of the work day. Before Colson goes back to the garage with the tire, he shakes all of the kids' hands.

"When I see you on the street, don't pretend like you don't know me," Colson says.

He's gone, and it's back to work. It's not long before Terrace calls out Damien for having his hands in his pockets.

"You're not busy if you have your hands in your pockets," Terrace says. "That's 100 pushups."

"Bossman" they call Terrace, because he's always shouting orders now. He acquired the nickname at some point during the summer and it stuck.

Jenkins peeks in on them from time to time or gives them a new job to do. He has more tasks to pick from nowadays — they've come a long way since their first day.

They spent their weekday afternoons at the Tire Barn for six weeks in June and July, but they'll be back into sports and school a few weeks after leaving work on Friday.

They'll miss it though, they all say as they wrap up their work in the storage deck.

"I'll miss the pushups," Terrace says. "Sometimes I need the motivation."

It's almost 5:30 — the end of the day for the kids — and Jenkins gathers everyone in the garage for one last goodbye.

"It's sad to see you go," Jenkins tells them. "But we're glad to see you go because it means you're taking another step in your life."

Each one of them shakes Jenkins' hand one last time. They won't be penalized with pushups today.

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rsp wrote on July 28, 2012 at 9:07 am

They look so much older. They almost don't look like the same kids, I mean young men.

Caleb Curtiss wrote on July 28, 2012 at 11:07 am

Kudos to Unit 4 and the City of Champaign for working together on this. It's great to see our community come together around a program that clearly benefits such hard working students and their employers alike.