Civic group helps those at risk to help themselves

April 12, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Most crack addicts don't relish parole-violation hearings, but Yvonne Kelly says she is looking forward to hers.

A mother of four, Ms. Kelly, 39, of Whiskey Bottom Road says she has used crack cocaine since 1989. She was arrested Sunday after she failed a urine test, violating her probation on a 1992 drug charge.

She hopes to ask a judge in Annapolis today for permission to leave the state for drug treatment.

"I will go right after the hearing," Ms. Kelly says. "I'm extending my hand out for some help."

Her hand has been grasped by Robert E. Stephens and the Concerned Citizens' Association of Laurel, a group of 60 Laurel-area business owners and other residents who do what they can to help drug addicts, senior citizens, at-risk children and the unemployed.

"We're about helping people," says Mr. Stephens, the group's president.

He put Ms. Kelly in touch with the Peniel Residential Treatment Center in Johnstown, Pa. He contacted the judge in the case to ask him to let her leave the state for treatment. If necessary, he says, he'll drive her to Pennsylvania himself. And the Concerned Citizens will help Ms. Kelly's family pay the $2,200-a-month cost of her treatment, which is expected to last 12 to 18 months.

"He's behind me 100 percent," Ms. Kelly says.

She says she made up her mind to seek help after witnessing the change in a man who had been through long-term treatment sponsored by Concerned Citizens. The man used to hang out with her on the streets of The Grove, a low-income Laurel neighborhood beset by the full range of urban social ills.

"He came back a whole lot different," she says. "He's been clean ever since. . . . All things are possible."

The Concerned Citizens initially worked only with residents of The Grove, says the group's secretary, Esther House. But word-of-mouth tales of good deeds spread, and now the group reaches out to people from Anne Arundel to Montgomery County.

The group sponsors a weekly homework club, where teachers and other adult volunteers help students.

They get young men -- including some of those hanging on the street corners -- to participate in an annual community cleanup, repairing seniors' homes and doing odd jobs.

"They're a great, energetic group," says Faith C. Calhoun, president of the Laurel City Council.

She says Concerned Citizens' first project was a citizens' patrol to drive drug dealers from The Grove. Later, the group began doing home repairs, and recruited volunteer electricians to install security lights.

"They've taken some very creative steps to try and help," Ms. Calhoun says, noting that they have done so with little outside help.

E. J. Neurell is a member of the group and owner of E. J.'s Auto Wizards, an automobile detailing and alarm-installation business in Laurel. He has given seven men on-the-job training and helped them find employment. With hard work, he says, they can now earn $100 to $200 a day in a trade that does not require a big capital investment.

"It's hard to turn someone around who has made big money," Mr. Neurell says of the former drug dealers. "They're pretty near forced to going back to whatever they were doing in the beginning."

Joe Wallace, vice president of Concerned Citizens and a top real estate agent in Laurel, came from The Grove himself. He now helps teen-agers there find role models by introducing them to blacks who are successful in fields such as financial management, aviation, medicine and law. "I think I've gotten two kids on the right path," he says.

Not everyone helped by Concerned Citizens succeeds.

"As long as we've done everything that we can possibly do, that's all that we can do," Mr. Stephens says. "The rest is up to the individual."

After all, "We're merely helping them help themselves," he says.

"Even if you only save one person," Ms. Calhoun says, "I mean . . . how much is a life worth?"

For more information on Concerned Citizens Association of Laurel Inc., call (301) 604-6564.

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