Club fills low-income youths with big ideas for summer

June 18, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Adrian Johnson and Damien Moulden sat side-by-side on the top stoop of a ramshackle house yesterday and savored their freedom.

It was the first day of summer vacation, hot and breezy, perfect weather for a little one-on-one basketball or a long bike ride. The possibilities stretched before them, seeming limitless, as they began making plans.

They quickly decided to spend hot afternoons at the pool, play basketball every day and fix up the club house. They're also going to eat lots of ice cream, march 10 miles in an AIDS walk

next Saturday and learn how to sail. Thursday nights are reserved for bingo games and movies with a group of senior citizens. And then there's the creek that needs constant cleanup work.

It wasn't the average vacation agenda of two sixth-graders. But 12-year-old Adrian and 11-year-old Damien have learned to be extra ambitious as members of a new club, the Annapolis Children's Foundation, which encourages children from low-income neighborhoods to succeed.

Former City Councilman Brad Davidson started the non-profit foundation last winter in an attempt to better coordinate volunteer programs that help children from Annapolis' poorer sections.

He invited five community leaders to his house in Murray Hill to brainstorm over a lasagna dinner. The men eventually came up with a two-part strategy for creating more incentives for children to "work hard, and study hard, finish high school and develop into independent, clear-thinking adults," Davidson said.

He arranged for a $75,000 seed grant from the J. M. Kaplan Fund, a large philanthropy based in New York City, of which he is a trustee. Three Annapolis organizations that work with youth -- the Annapolis All-Stars, the Annapolis Youth Athletic Association and the Community Action Agency -- were each given $5,000 and asked to select 10 of their "best and brightest" from ages 7 to 15 to participate.

Some of the money will be banked in a separate savings account for each child. Upon graduation from high school, they will

receive some $3,000. There are no strings attached, Davidson said.

"They can buy a car or use it for college tuition or just go on a trip to Europe."

But Davidson and the other founding members -- among whom are Jeffrey Bishop, vice president of St. John's College, and Leslie Stanton, head of the city's summer basketball program -- realize that a prize alone won't keep children in school.

"That's why there is the club," Davidson said. "It will stand or fall on its own attractiveness."

The club is dedicated to teaching children the value of education, leadership and community service. All 30 children were teamed up with individual mentors.

Roger Reed, a teacher at Marley Elementary School, took over as the club leader and quickly lined up a string of activities.

December, the children got to know each other on a weekend retreat on the South River. Later that month, they began an inter-generational program at Glenwood Senior Citizens Center.

They also participated in an innovative reading program at St. John's and adopted College Creek, picking rubbish off the muddy banks and conducting environmental tests to check the water purity. And they went sailing on a 50-foot sloop that raced through the whitecaps on the Chesapeake.

For Adrian and Damien, the trip was their first chance to hear the waves crash against the hull, to feel the salt sting their cheeks, and to watch the Annapolis skyline disappear. They can't wait for their next voyage, coming up next month, when the club will spend a week learning the basics of sailing from the Severn Sailing Association.

But that still seems far in the future. Right now, they're too busy planning for next week's AIDS walk-a-thon.

Money raised from the march will be donated to AIDS research at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, to local organizations that help people suffering from AIDS and to the children's foundation.

The club wants to use its share of the proceeds to fix up a dilapidated parish house donated to the children by Asbury United Methodist Church.

Adrian and Damien kicked at a loose brick and talked together about having a club house. Already, they were busy with another set of ambitious plans.

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