New Orleans Kids Have Few Summer Options Kids in New Orleans are having a tough time this summer as many camps, movie theaters, pools and parks remain closed. Youth workers say they are scrambling to create fun diversions -- with limited resources -- to keep bored kids out of trouble.
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New Orleans Kids Have Few Summer Options

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New Orleans Kids Have Few Summer Options

New Orleans Kids Have Few Summer Options

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

New Orleans is still facing new challenges because of Hurricane Katrina. As families return to the area, there are thousands of kids without much to do. Summer camps, parks, teen centers and movie theaters remain closed. With crime on the rise again in parts of the city, youth workers are trying to get as many programs running as they can to keep kids out of trouble.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

In the Gentilly area of the city, people are moving back in to the neighborhood. Fourteen-year-old Antonio Zeno, and his 11-year old cousin, are unloading some bags from his family's car, but it doesn't look like a very promising summer. There is still trash on the streets, and Zeno and his cousin Gregory Hunter, don't have nearly as much to do as last year.

Mr. ANTONIO ZENO (New Orleans Resident): Go swimming. That's what I like to do, go swimming.

Mr. GREGORY HUNTER (New Orleans Resident): [Unintelligible] swimming.

Mr. ZENO: I used to go to a summer camp, you know, in the St. Bernard. But it was a church/summer camp. That was my church, you know. And after that, it's all gutted out now, so, you know, we ain't doing nothing this summer.

Mr. LARRY BARABINO (Interim Director, New Orleans Recreation Department): Well, last year, we had 16 pools open throughout the city. Right now we have three.

ARNOLD: Larry Barabino is the interim director of the New Orleans Recreation Department. He says last year, the city ran summer camp for five to six thousand kids. But this year there just aren't enough places to have camp.

Mr. BARABINO: Eighty percent of our schools are damaged. Ninety-five percent of our recreational centers are damaged. For football season, we probably had about 150 teams.

ARNOLD: Barabino says New Orleans extensive sports programs, gave kids all over the city, role models: coaches who had good jobs or ran their own businesses. He himself grew up in a housing development, playing city sports. Barabino took us back to Willie Hall Playground, the field where he played football as a kid, and where he was coaching his six-year old son's team last summer before the storm.

Mr. BARABINO: This is a part of me, this playground. When I came out here and saw the playground, I was at tears because how it was. It's like you've lost a loved one.

ARNOLD: Barabino opens the door to the equipment room at the park. This was the first place Barabino came, after checking on his own house after Katrina, and today you can still smell the mold in all the helmets and uniforms scattered on the floor.

Mr. BARABINO: And even though I just left my home and found all my furniture and everything in disarray, I mean, I felt bad, but I knew that I had insurance to cover it. My furniture isn't all at my house, but I came here and I said, please, let all the equipment be good. And when I came here and I saw the watermarks, and opened the door and I saw it, I could nothing but just stand here. Because for every piece of equipment in here, it comes for a kid. That's a kid without a helmet, a kid without a shoulder pad. It's lost. It's gone. It's ruined.

ARNOLD: Barabino says he's trying to get as many parks reopened as possible, but there are problems. A city official says FEMA won't pay to replant grass at the city parks. The city estimates it's suffered more than $60 million in damages to its parks and rec facilities. But the city in FEMA are pushing paperwork back and forth, over how much is reasonable for FEMA to pay for all the various work that needs to get done.

A lighting storm rumbles through the sky, on an oven-hot afternoon in New Orleans. Youth workers around the city, are concerned that that same heat could push tempers to flash for kids who don't have pools and summer camps, and things to do.

Mr. WENDELL BUTLER (New Orleans Resident): They have people that just mess with you.

ARNOLD: Eighteen-year-old Wendell Butler is working as a security guard at the city's Convention Center. Butler lives with his mother and family, in the city's Seventh Ward. The house they used to rent was in the Tenth Ward, but it was damaged. His new house isn't a whole lot better. Butler says the landlord won't fix a bunch of broken windows and the house is full of mosquitoes.

Butler says he misses his old neighborhood. There was a cop, nicknamed Sarge, who lived on the block and kept things under control, and he knew all his neighbors.

Mr. BUTLER: You know everybody got along because all of us grew up together. Ain't no violent victims.

ARNOLD: Right now, the city's neighborhoods are all jumbled up, with kids from different areas forced to live together in the same neighborhood. Butler and many of the kids they spoke to, said that's sparking more fights over turf.

Mr. BUTLER: They're still with their turf stuff, after the storm and all that. When I get off, I just go inside. I come outside sometimes, because I walk my dog. I got a rabbit. I got leash for the rabbit: it's a big old rabbit. (Unintelligible).

ARNOLD: You've got a leash for the rabbit? That's pretty cool.

Mr. BUTLER: I got a leash for it. It's a stretchable. Like, you let the rabbit lead.

ARNOLD: It's hard to get much cuter than an 18-year-old kid, walking his pet rabbit around with a leash, but that hasn't helped Butler with the bullies in his new neighborhood. Butler says he and his little brother got jumped one day, by a bunch of other teenagers from a nearby housing project.

Mr. BUTLER: They come behind us, and they had some sticks, some mop sticks. Looked like they broke them or something. They come wagging at us with them sticks, and I had to turn around punch the other one, for hitting my little brother. Then I tell my little brother to run.

ARNOLD: A neighbor broke up the fight, and actually, police who work in the city's juvenile unit, say arrests of minors are still way down from pre-storm rates. There arresting 20 to 30 kids a week now. Sometimes they used to arrest up to 150.

But the population is still smaller now, and arrests are rising as people move back. And, some neighborhoods definitely do not feel safe. Butler says just last week, some guy was driving up his street firing a gun in the air. So, youth programs that can get up and running, are taking in as many kids as they can.

Ms. AQUELLA TASSAN(ph) (Member of Kingsley House Youth Center): (Singing) Look at me. What a mess, in this ragged, worn out dress.

ARNOLD: Eleven-year-old Aguella Tassan is practicing for the Cinderella musical some kids are doing at Kingsley House, a youth center that's open again.

Ms. TASSAN: (Singing) ...calloused feet...

ARNOLD: Kingsley House is offering summer camp for 250 kids; more than last year, and as many as they can legally take. They have another 100 on the waiting list.

Adrian Todd, the associate director, says there's also basketball and swimming for teenagers in the summer teen program.

Ms. ADRIAN TODD (Associate Director, Kingsley House): They also have to participate in our prevention programs. We do drug prevention, we do alcohol prevention, conflict resolution, anger management, with the kids.

ARNOLD: Teenagers showing up to play basketball say, with the programs here, they've got a lot to do this summer. Many miss friends that haven't returned yet.

But one thing a lot of kids say, is that it's actually much easier this year to find a summer job. New Orleans has a serious lack of workers, so employers are hiring kids, younger this summer, at age 14 instead of 16, and in some places even dishwashing in a restaurant pays $10 an hour instead of last year's $5.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, New Orleans.

LYNN NEARY, host:

You can read Chris Arnolds' observations on other parts of the city at npr.org.

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