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"It's tough to select," Nixon says later. "How will we screen out the people? It's not going to be
Back in the pump house, Nixon asks those who have ever caught a fish to raise their hands. About eight hands go up. "That is very powerful," Nixon says later. "One-third of those people have caught a fish before, and those are the people we are looking for -- who have an interest in the outdoors. That is the next generation of conservationists. I would like to give them that opportunity to have a career in the outdoors."
Nixon first spotted the old Capitol Pump House while driving across the Anacostia River on the South Capitol Street bridge. It was built in 1906 to send river water to the South Capitol heating plant, where it was converted to steam for heating the Capitol, Congressional office buildings and the Library of Congress.
The pump house stopped operating during the 1950s because the river water had become too polluted. The ECC moved from the Anacostia neighborhood to the pump house in 1994 when Mayor Barry agreed to rent it for $1 per month to provide a headquarters for the ECC and community access to the river.
The pump house was in bad shape. "The windows were all blown out," Nixon said. "It has taken us a lot of work to get it where it is now."
ECC members demolished blocks of cement with sledge hammers and built a floor. They had to remove four feet of pigeon droppings and 60 tons of steel pumping equipment. A company that docks barges next to the pump house volunteered to haul away the scrap metal.
Today, the pump house is cozy, and offers dramatic river views. "It's just fantastic to be out here," Nixon said. "We are 147 feet out in the river, so it really is the perfect place to have a beachhead for our members to go out and attack the problems of the river."
The ECC wants to make the pump house available for community meetings, Nixon said. There are plans to add other amenities, including a library, education resource center, computer room, aviary, fish hatchery and science lab.
Karen Hartridge, who joined the ECC in 1995 and now works as an ECC clerical assistant, was part of the crew that renovated the pump house. She said ECC members who worked on the pump house experienced something unusual -- for them -- a sense that their efforts were accomplishing something. They could see the results of their work at the end of each day. The next morning they would rush back, eager to see what more they could do, she said. "We were excited."
"These are the same kids that nobody wanted to be involved with, but Bob (Nixon) took them in," adds Hartridge, who lived in the Hopkins Apartments public housing project at the time. "You're talking about kids who come from neighborhoods where they just stand around on the corner, selling drugs and puffing, and everything. They tend to be a little rough, coming from disadvantaged neighborhoods."
The ECC helps teach discipline. "You have to be here at 8:30 a.m.," Hartridge said. "You learn to get along with other people, which is something that most of them did not know how to do."
Along the way, "the crew changed - their whole attitude changed," Hartridge said. "Now they were telling younger kids, 'You should get a job, stay in school, see if you can get into our program.' That kind of blew my mind."
Kids, many of whom had been gangster-style role models, now were showing children how to plant flowers, and displaying bald eagle chicks to excited school children, explaining how they cared for the exotic birds. "They were taking it back to them, and letting them know," Hartridge said.
ECC members are becoming a new set of role models for inner city children in Washington. The children "don't want to be like the ones standing on the corner anymore," Hartridge said.
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