By Andrea Waxman- Milwaukee neighborhood News Service

Vaun Mayes (left) talks to several teens riding bikes in the neighborhood about joining the Sherman Park Youth Stipend Program. Volunteer mentor Derrick Madlock (second from left) looks on. (Photo by Andrea Waxman)

Vaun Mayes (left) talks to several teens riding bikes in the neighborhood about joining the Sherman Park Youth Stipend Program. Volunteer mentor Derrick Madlock (second from left) looks on. (Photo by Andrea Waxman)

On a recent Saturday morning, about 30 teens assembled at the edge of the playground at the Mary Ryan Boys & Girls Club in Sherman Park. Under a sparkling blue sky and vibrantly colored trees, the hoodie-clad youth picked up gloves, rakes and garbage bags and headed east to 41st Street.

The young men and women from Program the Parks, a grassroots Sherman Park youth initiative started early last summer, together with adult and teen volunteers from Running Rebels, raked leaves from the lawns of the tidy bungalows lined up across from the park and piled them in the street.

Niekale Steward, 16, comes to Program the Parks activities more than once a week to help out. He said his friends come and he has made new friends through the program.

Steward said that Vaun Mayes, founder of Program the Parks, is like a big brother to him. “He’s a strong leader. (He always wants) me to do something with my life, not just be like everybody else; not be out here stealing cars and stuff like the other teens,” Steward said.

Mayes started working with young people congregating in Sherman Park when he heard about fights taking place there early last summer. Since then he has attracted a group of volunteers and donors and has developed a schedule of activities for youth that includes free meals, games, social gatherings and skill-building sessions. People who want to donate can do so through their PayPal account.

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