Betting Their Future On Bugs

January 18, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In her 20 years of living in the Cherry Hill Homes development in South Baltimore, Joyce Royster became well-versed in the ways of cockroaches.

Little did she expect that one day she could parlay her expertise into a job opportunity.

Through a new program created by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, Mrs. Royster and 13 other public housing tenants are learning the names and habits of all the cockroaches, rats and other vermin they've come to know. More importantly, they're learning how to best get rid of those pests.

The authority received a $140,000 federal grant to train the residents in extermination tactics.

For the next year, the group will attend classes one morning a week and be paid $6 an hour to work side-by-side with the authority's extermination crews. At the end of their training, when they have learned how to handle pesticides, bait rodent traps and perform other tricks of the trade, the residents will take a state exam to become licensed exterminators.

"This is a challenge. We want to grow, we want to learn, and we want a chance at a decent job that doesn't just pay $5 an hour," said Mrs. Royster, a widowed 45-year-old mother of five.

Richard Aull, the authority's director of central maintenance, dreamed up the program as a way to teach residents marketable skills while also bolstering his extermination efforts. The city has an annual budget of $400,000 and a six-member crew of licensed exterminators to handle all 36 public housing developments.

"It's a win-win," Mr. Aull said at the program's opening ceremony yesterday. "I am getting them trained, making them marketable for jobs and helping abate our existing infestation problems. Our rodent and roach problems are quite severe."

His six-member crews routinely spray pesticide in the 17 buildings that are reserved for the elderly. To handle the rest of the properties, the Housing Authority either sends over his crew or hires a private exterminator, Mr. Aull said.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III encouraged the 14 exterminators-in-training yesterday to have bold plans for the future.

"If you want to take advantage of this program to its fullest, you will understand not only how bugs work but how the business of exterminating bugs works," said Mr. Henson, who grew up in Poe Homes and became a successful developer.

Samuel Dowdy, 23, who lives in Claremont Homes, already has ambitions to set up his own extermination business.

For years, he worked at entry-level jobs at McDonald's, Burger King, Kmart and similar stores. Now, he says, he is ready to make a better living of $11 to $13 an hour and has hopes of "owning my own business."

Elizabeth Wright, head of the Residents Advisory Board that represents the more than 50,000 people living in Baltimore's public housing, had a personal hope for the program.

Perhaps, she suggested, one of the exterminators-in-training could "develop a better insecticide than what's on the market now."

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