ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Jahmal Swaby likes to dress sharp, and unlike some of his peers, the 15-year-old works hard for what he wants.
"I'm a shoes and hat man," the Clarke Central High School sophomore said during a break from his summer job serving lunch at the Nellie B Community Center.
"When I get my paycheck, it makes me feel proud," Swaby said. "I don't have to ask my mom for a loan when I want to buy something."
Swaby, who lives in the Nellie B Homes public housing complex, knows kids his age who steal what they want.
"They'll say, 'Man, I got a sweet lick last night,' " he said, then brag about the watches, cell phones and cash they stole after kicking in the door of someone's home.
Athens-Clarke County is in the midst of a property crime wave, the likes of which residents never have seen.
Police project that by year's end, they will have investigated more than 2,000 burglaries, most of them probably committed by teens 16 years old and younger.
That's why government agencies and nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club of Athens run camps and other programs to keep kids busy during the summer.
"I've seen growth and I've seen the potential these kids have to follow their dreams," said Geraldine Clarke, the Athens Housing Authority's resident support director who has overseen the agency's summer lunch program the past two decades.
"I just wish more people would take the time to work with them," she said.
The Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center used its federal economic stimulus funding to invest in the region's young people.
From its $1.5 million economic stimulus check, the NEGRDC put $1.2 million toward its summer work opportunities program, creating 1,100 summer jobs in the region - 181 in Clarke County - for low-income young people between the ages of 14 and 24.
They went to work at the mayor's office, police department, State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens Transit, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity and elsewhere, earning $6.55 an hour, said Carol Rayburn Cofer, director of work force development for the NEGRDC
"We were given a mandate (by the U.S. Department of Labor) to run a strong summer youth program" in the 12 counties the agency serves, she said.
As part of the program, Swaby and eight other kids begin their days at the housing authority at 7:25 a.m.
"They start work at 7:30, but we expect them to be here five minutes early, otherwise they are penalized," Clarke said.
"When they leave this program, I want them to have the best idea of how it is to work, to follow rules, to work together as a group," she said.
Before serving lunches at three housing authority sites, the teens perform clerical work and other duties, Clarke said, and they are required to keep a journal of their activities, learn how to budget and manage their earnings, and listen to guest speakers.
College students who worked the summer lunch program years earlier shared their experiences and advice, and they left an impression on Swaby.
"I learned a lot about college, like what classes you need to take," said Swaby, who loves numbers and aspires to be an accountant.
He knows the importance of an honest days work and says he can't be swayed by friends who might want to get money and things by stealing.
"Everybody knows I'm cool, that I don't do stuff like that," Swaby said. "People need to think about their future, because one mistake can ruin your entire life."