“The streets will not have our children!” Zsa Zsa Heard proclaimed on Facebook one week ago.
The post by the CEO of the LaGrange Housing Authority in LaGrange, Georgia, was inspired by four young men in her community who began at the start of summer to pester her for a job.
Each time they approached Heard, she was on her way in or out of the office, and asked the boys to come back later. Each time, they did.
Finally, Heard told the four boys — Jalen Parham and Dylik Smith, both 13, and twin brothers, Desmond and Deion Woodard, 14 –- to meet her the following day at the recreational center at 11 a.m.
Though the center isn’t particularly near Heard's office, the boys arrived at 10:15 sharp.
“'Now boys, come on, why do you really want a job?'” she recalls asking them. “I was expecting them to say that they wanted some money,” Heard told ABC News.
But the response blew her away.
One of the boys told Heard that they wanted work because they had been approached by gangs. The other three turned their heads.
Heard, astounded, asked the boys if this was true. “Yes ma’am,” they all replied in unison.
At that moment, Heard decided to hire them.
“I immediately called my maintenance director and said, ‘We have got to put these boys to work,’” she told ABC News. “I knew then we had to be more interesting than the gang if we’re going to keep them out of it.”
The boys are now performing tasks around the housing authority, including caring for the garden, passing out fliers, and even tending to a chicken coop, all for $7.25 an hour. Heard said the goal was to give the boys work they could take pride in and that would give them critical life skills.
And the boys have delivered. “When we say, 'be somewhere,' they’re there,” she said, adding that the four are attentive listeners and hard workers.
The CEO took to Facebook to share the boys’ inspirational story. Her post has since received over 500 likes, over 700 shares, and countless comments praising the boys and the Heard for putting them to work.
Recently, gang activity in the small town of LaGrange has become more prevalent, according to Heard.
“We have got to be exciting, innovative, dynamic, and critical thinkers if we want them to avoid gangs,” she said, emphasizing the lengths to which the community will go to provide children with support and resources.
Heard hopes these remarkable young men will set an example for their classmates.
“We’re hoping that this will open up doors for more children to come into our program and stay in the program,” she said.