For three hours, a small band of underage car thieves, house burglars and drug peddlers toiled in the sun along the Canton waterfront, picking up weeds and trash and discarded Christmas trees.
"We're trying to pick up our lives and start over," said a 17-year-old -- one of nine teen-agers from the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School who helped spruce up a little patch of green along the waterfront this week.
They are the first of Hickey's 372 young men to participate in a new community service program launched by Denver-based Rebound Inc., which took over the school in September under contract with the state.
Months ago, thefts or drug offenses landed these nine 16- and 17-year-olds at the Cub Hill school, the state's only large-scale facility for delinquent juveniles. Wednesday, they donned work gloves, boots and heavy denim jackets, and went forth to fill bags with trash and weeds.
"It's good for kids who have taken from the community to give back," said Tim Neidermeyer, Hickey's director of operation. "A lot of these kids have never experienced giving. We want to demonstrate for them some different types of values."
Youngsters at Hickey have been adjudged delinquent or are awaiting court hearings. The majority have alcohol or drug problems. Many have been abused and neglected by their families.
Rebound's recidivism rate in Colorado is 30 percent, and Rebound officials hope to lower Hickey's current 50 percent recidivism rate.
The officials say they stress educational and vocational programs, and activities geared to help emotional and social development. The youths need treatment rather than incarceration, they say, to build pride and self-worth.
"Helping out here makes me feel good about myself," the 17-year-old said -- the two gold caps on his front teeth glistening in the sun.
"I want to see these kids grow up," said William Johnson, a Hickey counselor.