As the yellow 23-seater wound through the streets of north Minneapolis, teenagers shouted the standard "short bus" jokes from street corners and park entrances.

Others shot confused looks.

In its four years of operation, the "Youth Are Here Bus" has delivered thousands of teens to parks, libraries and jobs in north Minneapolis, shepherding them safely through some of the city's diciest neighborhoods.

After a month-long layoff, the free service is back in operation with a new organization -- the Minneapolis Park Board -- in the driver's seat, and a new look.

"It's about organizations coming together to find solutions for children," said Cordell "Corky" Wiseman, the park board's assistant superintendent for recreation.

The compact bus, which replaced a full-size model, has taken some getting used to, for both riders and passersby.

Youth worker James Everett, who has been around since chaperoning the maiden voyage back in 2007, has defended the new Youth Bus countless times, deflecting wisecracks and cheap shots.

"We're short on time and you'll have short attention spans," Everett told one teenager after another, "and you're all special, so you belong on the bus with us."

Finding solutions

Back in January, city Youth Coordinating Board Executive Director Ann DeGroot told supporters that funding for the bus, at half of last year's total, was running dry. Plans were to cut or cancel the service altogether.

Park board leaders assumed control and found a way to keep the circulator on the road.

The bus is smaller and will operate fewer hours per day, but Saturday service has been added, all at an overall cost savings.

The bus operates from roughly 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, logging 100 miles per day.

Its eight stops --Creekview Park, Folwell Park, North Regional Library, Farview Park, Jerry Gamble Boys and Girls Club, North Community YMCA, North Commons Park and Harrison Park -- run the length of north Minneapolis from the Shingle Creek neighborhood to the Harrison neighborhood.

Everett hops off at every stop to announce the bus's arrival and departure, joking with parents and staff along the way. As a rider dashed for the restroom at North Commons last week, Everett limited the youngster's options.

"Hurry up," he said. "We don't have time for No. 2."

Sixteen-year-olds Razagna Love and Deneisha Gilkey spent several hours on the bus last week, listening to Everett's lectures on everything from hygiene to the sinister nature of nursery rhyme lyrics.

"It's a good environment," Gilkey said. "They won't let anybody on that isn't safe."

Tough environs

The bus transports students through gang territories or helps those who can't afford bus fare find their way to snacks or dinner at city parks.

When the service ran on a midmorning-to-afternoon shift several years ago, the Youth Bus was a day camp on wheels for preteens in the summertime.

Some older children used the bus as an escape from the summer doldrums or tough times at home. Transportation to jobs and athletic practices were other popular uses.

"It's one of the most consistent things in their lives," Everett said. "It gives them a ride that some relatives won't or can't. Sometimes, the only place they could find peace is on the bus."

Jazmine Simmons, a Henry High School junior-to-be, hitches rides home from her job at the North Community YMCA at Broadway and Knox.

"It's a bus for the kids," Simmons said. "Who else gives that opportunity?"

The Youth Coordinating Board experimented with the service in south Minneapolis back in 2007, but it attracted on average fewer than five students per day.

By comparison, the north Minneapolis circulator serves dozens of students each day.

If the new compact service is a success this summer, Park Board staff will consider giving the south side route another try.

The Park Board agreement to operate the Youth Bus runs through the end of 2011.

"We're building relationships," said Latrell Beamon, a Park Board youth coordinator, "and give them things that can't be found in the streets."

Razagna Love doesn't want the service or staff to go away anytime soon.

"They know everybody," said the rising North High School junior. "Hopefully, this is going to last a long time for us."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491