Steering youth straight Howard County: Mentors employ stock cars, ballet to make positive impression on teens.

April 24, 1996

AT FIRST GLANCE, a mentoring program for youths centered around stock-car racing may seem to have little in common with a group that engages youngsters through ballet, painting and drama. Although the activities differ, the same mission is at the heart of the two programs with ties to Howard County. Both aim to put young people on a track toward success.

Corrinne Arnold is a Savage resident responsible for matching teen-agers with NASCAR stock-car drivers who act as mentors in a program called "In the Pits." The leader herself can provide troubled youngsters with a lesson on overcoming hardship. Ms. Arnold studied auto mechanics and once dreamed of a career in NASCAR racing. But in 1985, she was struck by a car passing through a line at a Jessup vehicle inspection station where she worked. Injuries to her spinal cord took years to heal.

The 23 young men in her program, run by an upstate New York-based organization called Freedom Village, U.S.A., are a mix of former drug addicts, alcoholics and physical and sexual abuse victims. Many were referred by those close to them, including social workers, pastors and judges. Ms. Arnold's task is to get young people who have already steered down the wrong road to make a U-turn.

Rev. Stephen Wilson Williams III, meanwhile, is trying to keep youngsters away from that road altogether. He created Life Line Posse Inc. to help teen-agers explore the "positive aspects of life."

He believes that kids with nothing to do are ticking time bombs. The Columbia Church Ministries' outreach program is led by representatives from various community service groups. Adolescents can learn jazz, ballet and African dance and be exposed to painting, drama and creative-writing. Fifteen students from Harper's Choice Middle School have already enrolled, and Mr. Williams hopes to increase the number to 40. Enrollees sign a pledge to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. If their grades drop, students must seek counseling from Life Line tutors.

A father of four, Reverend Williams understands, like Ms. Arnold, the value of providing children with adult mentors. In a suburb where juvenile arrests for violent crimes are rising, such role models are certainly needed.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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