INDIANAPOLIS — This summer, teenagers on the north side are spending their days working, building pride for their community and ultimately staying away from violence.

On a hot summer day, kids with the Tarkington Teen Work Crews are not spending their time indoors. Instead, they are out in their community, cleaning up Tarkington Park and nearby businesses. Leaders with the program said it’s a way for them to build pride for their community, earn a paycheck and also keep them out of trouble.

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“One day i got the news that my dad wasn’t here anymore and someone had took his life mistakenly,” Cartel Havvard said. “He wasn’t even the person they were looking for.”

Havvard’s father, Wade, was killed in 2015 in the same neighborhood where he is investing his time this summer.

“That’s one of the main reasons why we don’t live here today,” Havvard said. “We still come here to visit our family, of course, but we wanted to get out of the city and try to find somewhere safe for us, for me and my family to live.”

Havvard now lives with his mom in Arizona but for the last three summers, when he comes to visit his grandparents in Indianapolis he works with the Tarkington Teen Work Crew.

“With our city being as homicide heavy as it is right now, we are trying to keep these young men out of trouble and we are trying to keep them away from the violence,” Damon Lee, supervisor of the Tarkington Teen Work Crew, said. “We are trying to teach them how to be leaders and how to make good decisions so it won’t impact their lives and their families lives.”

The teens earn a weekly stipend to clean up the community. Lee also grew up in Butler Tarkington.

“I was a lucky one that got away, went to college and came back,” Lee said. “A program like this saved my life.”

“I just try to make sure I don’t hang around the wrong people or get involved in the wrong things and make sure I and the people around me stay safe so no one else will get harmed like that,” Havvard said.

Throughout the summer, they bring in licensed counselors and therapists to help these kids who have lost loved ones to violence deal with the trauma they’ve faced. Lee hopes they walk away with pride for their community and the skills they need to build a better future.

Each April, there is an application process. The teens must go through an interview and then they are chosen to take part in the program. Teenage girls also take part. They focus on building skills inside the MLK Community Center.

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