$750,000 facility for youths, families opens in Essex Center is culmination of years of volunteer work

April 25, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Eastern Baltimore County residents celebrated the opening of the Riverwood Family and Youth Center yesterday, the culmination of years of volunteer work by adult and teen leaders who are battling juvenile crime in impoverished pockets of the area.

The $750,000 facility in Essex features a Police Athletic League center, a county recreation office, health department substance-abuse prevention programs, a day care center and a job-location program -- along with Orlando Yarborough's martial arts school and family fitness center.

"We like to think a young person can come here after school and be completely busy with physical and mental activity until it's time to go home," said Mr. Yarborough, a master in the Chinese style of philosophy and fighting called kung fu.

He said tutoring and other mental exercise will be stressed as well as the physical aspects of the center -- weightlifting, aerobics and kung fu classes.

"When they go down the entire length of the building, their last stop can be the pizza shop for a slice before they go home," Mr. Yarborough said.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, addressing about 100 people at the opening celebration, said, "The children are our future. They will grow up to be members of the community, and they will help the community grow in a positive fashion."

The Rev. Sharon Mills, pastor of the Back River United Methodist Church, told the crowd, "We do not believe in ourselves until someone believes in us."

Parts of the Essex-Middle River area are troubled by drug dealing, prostitution and gang activity. Community leaders such as Mr. Yarborough and Mary Emerick of the county Office of Community Conservation hope the center will combat that.

"People recognized the lack of facilities in the area and people like Orlando became the vehicle for getting it done," Ms. Emerick said. "He creates a very positive atmosphere and the kids respect him. He has their attention.

"Now he has more support and a much-improved facility. He's doing a job lots of folks don't want to do."

Last year, Mr. Yarborough took a team of Essex youths to the historic Shaolin Temple in China, where they trained with monks and visited rural villages.

State and county officials participated in the opening ceremony of the 100,000-square-foot center in the 100 block of Back River Neck Road.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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