The National Urban League and the IBM Corp. announced yesterday the creation of a $1.4 million project aimed at discouraging drug and alcohol abuse by counseling and mentoring youth in Baltimore and eight other selected cities.
The joint effort will specifically target youngsters 12 to 16 years of age. It will use IBM employees and retired IBM workers as mentors and counselors in an effort to reach those at risk of becoming involved with drugs or alcohol.
The pilot program will pair IBM personnel with Urban League affiliates in the eight cities, providing a three-month substance abuse curriculum, coupled with personal counseling.
"This is not something that tells them what to do," said National Urban League President John E. Jacob at a news conference held yesterday at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. "Students will be involved in the planning of the local programs. They will be encouraged to participate in constructive, positive community service activities."
Organizers also suggested that the three-month sessions would go beyond simplistic "drugs are bad" messages, dealing instead with some of the underlying tensions that often drive people to substance abuse. Participants in the program would be those youths identified by parents, schools, juvenile authorities or community groups as being at risk of becoming involved with drugs or alcohol.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg were both on hand at yesterday's news conference to praise the collaboration between private industry, the civil rights organization and local government.
Mr. Jacob said Baltimore was chosen as one of the pilot cities because of Mayor Schmoke's advocacy of alternative approaches to the nation's drug problem, as well as the presence of a strong Urban League affiliate and IBM's past participation in city literacy programs.
Slated to begin in January, the program is also planned for Detroit; Columbia, S.C.; Providence, R.I.; Tucson, Ariz.; Akron, Ohio; Tacoma, Wash.; and Tampa, Fla.
IBM has agreed to fund the pilot -- christened Drugs Destroy Dreams -- for three years. The program will be evaluated at regular intervals so that its success in reaching youth can be assessed and its curriculum can be changed, if necessary.
"Mentors are essential to fostering an attitude among youth that they do indeed have something to offer, and moreover, can reach their goals," said Gerald W. Ebker, an IBM vice president and the ranking company official in Maryland.
"We believe our employees can bring to the table considerable experience and skills." he said.