Anthony P. Armbrister sat in his neatly arranged office, pointed toward the door and firmly stated his mission.
"Anybody that comes into this office and says 'I need help,' I'm going to help them, whether they qualify for my program or not," the coordinator of Project Focus said.
Since October, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel has been working at Anne Arundel Community College to find youths to enlist in the program. The project has to have at least 30 people who have participated in the program by June 1995.
Mr. Armbrister works with the Planning Action Committees of Anne Arundel County and the Young Fathers of Annapolis program to find potential participants for the free program.
Typically, the participants are about 19 years old with a 10th- or 11th-grade education who have not received their general equivalency diplomas.
Mr. Armbrister said the young men are usually unmarried fathers who have worked in short-term jobs but are unemployed when they enroll.
Vanessa Johnson, who previously ran the program, left when she married earlier this year. In her absence the program has changed its focus from assisting community college students to developing skills in minorities who have left public schools or community colleges, are considered to be in danger of dropping out of school, or are unemployed or underemployed.
The program has 15 young men and one young woman who have signed contracts promising to "develop and maintain a positive mental attitude," "develop a personal career plan" and "complete the program," among other commitments.
Most of the participants are well into the introductory phase of the program -- meeting with Mr. Armbrister and learning what is expected of them. About half have started the second phase, in which Mr. Armbrister assesses their skills and abilities and learns what they are interested in as a career.
"A lot of these guys are very talented, but they haven't thought about the big picture," said Mr. Armbrister. "There's nothing that's impossible once you show them how to get there. We just have to get them over one hurdle at a time."
In the third and fourth phases, Mr. Armbrister said, the youths will attend workshops and seminars at which they will learn business skills, such as resume writing and interviewing techniques, and also will work toward getting their general equivalency diplomas or will re-enroll at community colleges.
Mr. Armbrister was a career Marine who retired when he determined that he was not going to be promoted to general.
He said he got involved in what he calls a "dream" job because community members helped him and his brothers when his family was going through hard times.
"Almost all of my senior year in high school, my brothers and I were living without parents," he said, noting that his parents had divorced and that his mother was seriously ill and in the hospital. "We survived, but we wouldn't have been able to do it without jTC people in the community looking out for us."
Now he is determined to give something to youths who need "a little more encouragement," he said. "I've always wanted to help those who needed an extra kick, support or whatever," he said. "I've really worked for this, to be able to give back."
Giving back is what Mr. Armbrister expects the young men and women to do once they have completed the program and found employment in their field of interest.
He said he will ask them to become mentors or return to speak other young men and women enrolled in the training.
A $50,000-a-year grant from the state Department of Education pays for Project Focus. The money was given to Anne Arundel Community College for two years to continue the program that began at the school in 1991.
To continue to receive the state money, the project it must show an 80 percent success rate, but that doesn't bother Robert Schweriner, the director of Project Focus.
"I think we're going to be able to show good reason why we should keep the money," he said. "I couldn't have asked for anybody better" than Mr. Armbrister.