Kids from rough area tackle rope course

INCHING TOWARD A HAPPIER TOMORROW

August 24, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

The rope course at Fort Howard Park in Baltimore County is sort of like a mini-Outward Bound. Yesterday, 27 children from a high-crime area of the county took on the course.

It was Officer Mike Burton's idea. He works the Essex area and patrols the Village of Tall Trees apartment complex, considered one of the worst crime areas in the county.

At the beginning of the day, the children, who ranged in ages from 10 to 17 years, were a bunch of individuals clinging to their "tough guy, loner stance," said Mark Metzger, a county police youth counselor. But getting through the course required cooperation and teamwork.

"By making them cooperate and solve problems together, we made them part of a group," said Mr. Metzger. "What we're trying to do, basically, is steer them in the right direction," said Officer Burton, 27.

Apparently, it worked. By the time the kids reached the last challenge, a high-wire climb through trees to a 30-foot tower, they were openly encouraging and helping each other get through the course.

Frankie Haddix, 14, was the first to attempt the tree climb. Standing on a steel cable, while holding onto another with his hands, he inched his way along. As he made his way slowly across, a girl called out, "How is it Frankie?" When he didn't immediately answer, the girl said, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," he answered, as he continued across.

After reaching the 30-foot tower, Frankie was hooked to a "zip" line and glided back down to the ground. "It was fun," he said. "But it was kind of scary at first."

Some children got halfway across the obstacle and became tentative and frightened. Those who had already completed the course called up to them with instructions and encouragement.

"They're all good kids," said Officer Burton, 27. "Some of them have serious problems. They've been victims of serious crime."

The trip, which included a picnic lunch, was funded through $150 donated by the Essex group Police and Children Together, or PACT, said Officer Burton. Earlier this summer, another officer took some children from the Village of Tall Trees to the National Aquarium, a place they'd never been.

Now the kids are talking about going to an amusement park. Officer Burton said he can see a positive change in them.

At the end of the day, he said, he talked with some of them about the dangers of using marijuana. Several promised they wouldn't use the drug.

Going on the police-sponsored trip, 13-year-old Stacy Townley proudly wore a baseball cap with a huge, green marijuana leaf over the bill. When asked about it, she said she didn't want to get ticks and it was her only hat. By day's end, Stacy had forsworn the cap.

"She said she was going to give her hat back to her boyfriend," said Officer Burton.

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