Teen's job reaps cash and skills

Student David Green learns the satisfaction of a hard day's work

Maryland Journal


While some of his friends are traveling to other countries or sleeping in late, David Green is getting up early for his summer job - planting and maintaining landscapes for Columbia Association Open Space Management.

On a recent Wednesday, the 18-year-old sophomore at University of Maryland, College Park woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the short drive from his parents' house in the village of Dorsey's Search to the Columbia Association maintenance facility on Gerwig Lane.

Green is one of an army of high school and college students around the country working summer jobs this year. Nationwide, 21.7 million workers ages 16 to 24 were employed between April and July last year, an increase of 2.7 million from 2004, according to a report by the U.S. Labor Department.

About 7:30 a.m. that Wednesday, Green gathered with a handful of other employees in an office as a manager ticked off the work that needed to be done that day.

Green is one of about 65 employees in Open Space's maintenance division, four of whom are summer workers. In addition to Open Space, the Columbia Association hires summer workers for other departments, including the sports and fitness division that includes lifeguards and others who work at 23 outdoor pools.

Wearing cargo shorts, a Columbia Association T-shirt, tennis shoes and a baseball cap, Green stood against the wall listening. Once the brief meeting ended, Green and Monika Saxton, a horticulturist, got into a white Ford Ranger and drove a short distance to a greenhouse and nursery where the association houses its plants and gardening equipment.

Green learned about the summer gig from somebody he knew at the association. After three weeks on the job, Green said he likes being outdoors and was impressed at his growing knowledge of gardening.

"This is a life lesson," Green said, but joked that it could spell trouble when he gets married. "I really don't have an excuse now - I really can't say `I don't know how to do that' now."

Green, a mechanical engineering major, said he was pretty sure that he wouldn't take up landscaping as a career. But the summer job has given him respect for the art of landscaping.

"Before, I didn't notice or care who planted flowers or trees; now I notice it a lot more," he said as he planted sweet potato vines in front of the Columbia Swim Center in the village of Wilde Lake. "Now, when I drive around, I tell my friends that I planted that and they respond by saying, `Yeah, that's some really good planting.'"

As Green continued sifting and watering the soil, he occasionally looked up and waved to friends working for summer camps, who were walking into the swim center with summer campers in tow.

Green said he was happy that he landed this job, because he wanted to be outdoors. In addition, he wanted to accomplish more than in his previous summers, which usually included lounging around the house and sleeping late.

This is his first paid job. Last year, Green took part in a summer-abroad program in Spain.

"I kind of wanted a job this summer," he said. "I feel like an adult: I can buy my own stuff and not ask people for money. Now they can ask me for a loan."

Green, who makes $10 an hour, said it was a good feeling when he got his first paycheck recently, but it was bittersweet.

"I didn't know they take so much money out for taxes," he said.

He said he's getting used to going to bed "at the early hour" of 11 p.m., as opposed to 1 a.m. when he is at school. He says he now gets hungry more often and even eats breakfast.

Saxton said tasks are finished quicker now that she has Green's help. During the rest of the year, she usually works alone.

"This is a very good one," Saxton said of Green. "In the past, I found that the young people sit around and just want to get paid."

Saxton said Green is a quick learner and "after two or three days, he knew what he needed to get off the truck without me even telling him."

Time seems to pass pretty quickly as he drives from location to location in Columbia, Green said.

"This is not one of those jobs where you can sit around and watch the clock," he said. "There really is no clock here to watch."

At noon, Green went to a nearby Chipotle Mexican Grill for lunch. He was there to soak up some cool air, relax and talk on his cell phone.

As the afternoon sun beat down and the temperatures reached into the high 80s, Green and Saxton drove to Oakland Manor in the Town Center to plant impatiens.

Green said it's tough getting used to the heat, as he pulled up his sleeve to show his tan line. Throughout the day, he would occasionally lift up his hat and wipe the sweat from his face.

When Saxton asked Green to drive back to the greenhouse and pick up more impatiens, he jumped at the assignment.

"This truck has an air conditioner, so that's good," he said.

About 2 p.m., Green and Saxton went to work at a park in the Town Center.

"Now it's nice to be in the shade," Green said as he tilled the soil in front of a gazebo.

As he planted some impatiens at the foot of the park while some bees were flying nearby, he recalled an earlier encounter with such a swarm. "They stung me twice, and it did hurt. But it was just a sting, it goes away," he said.

As 3:30 p.m. rolled around, Green and Saxton headed back to the greenhouse.

Saxton, who works earlier hours, went home for the day, leaving Green to water the plants in the greenhouse.

"This part of the day is pretty slow," Green said. "I would ask if I could work the hours like Monika, but I don't think I can deal with getting up that early."

It's not all work for Green this summer. He said he plays basketball and is on a Howard County Ultimate Frisbee team.

Asked if he was going home to rest after his shift ended, Green said: "Nope, I think I will have to go home and mow the lawn now."


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