Making good out of bad: 2 young men seek new life Agency helps point way to brighter future

December 22, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Antione and Tivonne Harris were surrounded by drugs and violence from childhood -- problems that began with their parents and later became their own.

Now Antione, 21, and Tivonne, 19, of Ellicott City are trying to escape the trap that ensnared their parents, and Howard County social service agencies are trying to help.

The agencies hope to make the young men's holidays and their futures brighter. It's an unusual tale of two young men who are trying to make good of a bad situation at a time of increasing violence and trouble among the county's youths.

The brothers allege in a Howard County District Court complaint that their father assaulted them Aug. 18 with a 2-by-4 and threatened them with a gun. They also alleged that their mother used drugs.

With the rent unpaid on the Harrises' Ellicott City home, they were evicted. Antione and Tivonne, who don't know where their parents are, became homeless.

They were sent to the Community Action Council of Howard County, a nonprofit organization that helps the needy.

"When they came to us, they were both injured and homeless," said Lawrence Hunt, director of programs for the Community Action Council. "We provided assistance for them in our shelter program. They really took charge of the situation."

The Community Action Council worked to land the brothers jobs. Antione Harris now works at Roy Rogers, while Tivonne Harris works for a carpet-cleaning business.

Community Action and the county Department of Housing and Community Development helped them obtain a two-bedroom, government-subsidized apartment in Ellicott City.

They moved in Dec. 13, taking two sofas from the furniture removed from the family's home, but little else. They have one chair, one single bed and a kitchen table neatly decorated with place settings but without chairs.

The county agencies are hoping the holidays will bring more good cheer -- better jobs, clothes, more furniture and maybe even a car.

"I know what I want to do in life," Antione Harris said. "All I needed was a little bit of help. We're going to move forward from here."

The agency workers hope the brothers will avoid the legal problems that befell their parents.

"This was a very traumatic thing for them," said Barney R. Putnam Jr., program coordinator for the African American Male BTC Mentoring Program, part of the Community Action Council of Howard County.

"These young men should be applauded," he said.

"They're trying to make a difference."

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey said, "They want to clean their act up. I think anything people can do to help them would be great."

"If you see people at their lowest, it'll make you want to do differently," Tivonne Harris said. "We've got the rest of our lives ahead of us."

Tivonne Harris' own troubles with the law began with an assault and battery conviction in 1991 stemming from a fight at Atholton High School in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.

Attorney Bobbie Fine, then a county prosecutor, believed that Tivonne was simply troubled by problems at home.

"There had not been any support at all, but I saw that there was something in him. He had good in him," Fine said.

By November 1994, Tivonne Harris realized he needed to change. With Fine's recommendation, he enrolled in the Living Classrooms Foundation's Fresh Start Program in Baltimore, a program that teaches juvenile offenders life skills and gives them experience with woodworking tools.

About that time, Antione Harris enrolled in the Army National Guard, trying to make a new life through the military after he faced his own assault and battery charges in 1994 and 1995, which were later dropped.

He returned home in May. Three months later, the troubles at home climaxed.

Now, the brothers hope their troubles have ended, and they are setting their goals: Antione Harris wants to be an air-conditioning and heating systems repairman, and Tivonne Harris wants to go to college to play sports and study to be a social worker.

Dorothy "Dottie" Moore, executive director of the Community Action Council, said, "They've had a lot on their shoulders. It's a sad story, but it has a good ending. They're happy, and I'm happy."

Community Action is accepting donations to help the Harris brothers and other needy families. To contribute, call Community Action at 313-6440.

Other county organizations that are accepting donations to support the needy are:

The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, which maintains four shelters and is regularly in need of such perishable items as bread, milk, peanut butter and jelly. The center also needs laundry detergent, trash bags, paper towels and disposable diapers. Donors can call 997-0304.

FISH of Howard County, which is seeking nonperishable items for its six pantries. Nonperishables can be donated by calling 964-8660.

Grassroots Homeless shelters, which provide gift certificates for food, personal hygiene items and Christmas presents for adults and children. To make a donation, call 531-6006.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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