'Posse' created as detour on youths' road of life Church outreach program hopes to steer children away from drugs, crime

April 10, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Through the arts, the Rev. Stephen Wilson Williams III hopes to throw out a lifeline to teens, pulling them away from the sex, drugs and violence that can threaten their lives.

He's created the Life Line Posse Inc. to help youngsters explore the positive aspects of life through dancing, creative writing, painting and drama.

"If they know who they are, they're less likely to fall into hazardous patterns," said Mr. Williams, 32, who lives in Columbia's Wilde Lake village and who established the nondenominational True Life Church last Mother's Day. The 35-member congregation meets in the Swansfield Neighborhood Center.

Life Line Posse -- similar to a youth program that Mr. Williams was involved with in Baltimore -- is an outreach program of his Columbia church's ministries. He said the first part of the name, "life line," refers to how hospital heart monitors determine life. "Posse" is a group of people chosen by some authority to assist in maintaining or restoring order.

The program began April 1 when 15 boys at Harper's Choice Middle School joined Life Line's drill team and the martial arts and dance classes. Mr. Williams said he'd like to have at least 40 youngsters of various races and ethnicities involved.

Though the program is relying on volunteers now, the nonprofit organization will require about $75,000 to operate fully.

Activities include designing and distributing coloring books and comic books for younger children, and learning the basics of business and filmmaking.

To participate, youngsters ages 12 to 18 must sign a commitment contract to achieve at least a 3.0 grade point average in school. If their grades drop, they must seek help from tutors provided through Life Line.

"We believe once a child tastes success, he doesn't want to go back," Mr. Williams said.

In addition, youngsters must do chores around the house and show respect to their parents and elders.

Adult mentors, who must also show they are committed, will lead the activities and will tutor, Mr. Williams said. While serving as role models, they also will be giving something back to the community.

To attract mentors, Mr. Williams has contacted community groups, including fraternities and sororities and the Black Student Association Program.

The program will "not be drop-off laundry," Mr. Williams warned. Parents must be involved in the program, which he said is desperately needed in Howard County. "A lot of groups deal with youths but only the symptoms -- violence, drugs," he said. "If you deal with the root problem, the symptoms will disappear."

He added: "In Howard County, most people are in denial about the problems that exist with youths. Some kids are just waiting time bombs because they don't have anything to do, so they get into trouble."

Local crime statistics seem to support Mr. Williams' claims. Last year, there were 618 juvenile arrests for serious crimes, a decrease from the 686 reported in 1994, recent Howard County police statistics showed. But the statistics show more youths are committing violent crimes here. For example, the number of robberies committed by youths last year was 25, up from 19 in PTC 1994; and the number of aggravated assaults increased from 53 to 79.

Mr. Williams has a personal stake in this, too: He and his wife of 10 years, Karen, have four young children.

"There's an African proverb," Mrs. Williams said: "It takes a whole community to raise a kid."

With that in mind, the couple has lined up several volunteer mentors to help foster change in the lifestyles of the county's youths.

Among them are local dancer Jequita Hill and her songwriter-music producer husband, Loren Hill. Mrs. Hill will teach ballet, jazz and African dance, and her husband will teach youngsters to read and write music.

"Our culture is led by the arts," explained Mrs. Hill, 27, of Oakland Mills village. "Turn on BET, MTV and VH-1 and you see it. Our kids are looking to the arts for things they're not finding -- self-assurance."

Learning about the arts complements math and other subjects taught in school, she said. "It brings out a sense of confidence. The arts is just a stepping stone to a lot of things. It gets them [youngsters] off the streets and away from peer pressure."

All of this is rather simple, Mrs. Williams said. "The youths are the lifeline to our future. Without them, eventually everything just goes kaput."

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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