Creating a safe place for teens to play 12-year-old leads drive for East Baltimore center

March 01, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Marquita Turner was only 10 when her fragile sense of security was shattered by a single gunshot. But that event has inspired her to do something unusual for a youngster: She and a handful of determined friends have opened the Southeast Teen Center.

Driven by a desire to create a safe place to pass time, the youths have transformed a leased space, on the third floor of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary School, into temporary quarters for their recreation and arts center. The center opened yesterday.

"We need a place to go where we can feel safe and have fun," says Marquita, the youngest person on the 10-member teen council that renovated the space.

Stroll through her Baltimore-Linwood neighborhood, just north of Patterson Park, and you'll understand why. Day and night, drug dealers stand on street corners plying their trade. Many motorists refuse to slow down. Cars screech and horns sound constantly, evidence of the fear people feel as they drive through the area.

Perplexed by these problems, Marquita decided last spring to write a grant proposal to get funding for the teen center. It was a decision also fueled by personal experience.

Sitting in the window of her grandparents' rowhouse 2 1/2 years ago, Marquita watched in terror as her father shot another man during a scuffle on North Rose Street. He said he fired his weapon in self defense but was convicted of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.

The trauma of that afternoon left an indelible mark on Marquita, who's now 12. For the past year, she has been working to prevent other children from witnessing the same kind of violence.

With guidance from Sister Barbara Ann "Bobby" English, director of the Julie Community Center, Marquita and her 16-year-old cousin, Marquis Myers, worked for weeks on the proposal. It was submitted in March 1996 to the Youth as Resources Committee of the Baltimore Community Foundation. By unanimous approval May, the committee gave them $950 to set up the teen center.

"We were really impressed with their presentation," said Jennifer Cheslock, 15. "They sent us a budget, charts and pictures, all illustrating what they wanted to do. They were very articulate and had a clear goal in mind."

Cheslock, a student at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, and eight other youngsters serve on the Youth as Resources Committee, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping youth-initiated projects get off the ground. The 15-member committee funded five projects last spring.

With grant money in hand, Marquis and Marquita went to several local hardware stores to buy brushes, paint and primer. For several days last month, they used the supplies to give the teen center a new look.

In addition to art and recreation, the center will provide "job training and leadership programs," said Lori Shollenberger, executive director. "We want to have a positive impact on the entire Southeast, not just the area around St. Elizabeth."

For several months, Shollenberger and the center's volunteer staff members -- development director Ana Toledo, from the United Methodist Mission intern program, and Charisse Lee of VISTA -- have been looking for a permanent home.

High on their wish list: Patterson Park's bathhouse near Linwood Avenue. The bathhouse is considered ideal for the center because the park appeals to youths from many city neighborhoods.

"Kids don't usually cross neighborhood boundaries," Shollenberger said. "But the park is a neutral place."

The bathhouse will cost about $450,000 to renovate; the teen center has $150,000 in community development block grant funds. "We're trying to raise more money," Marquita says.

The Southeast Teen Center at 4 N. Belnord Ave. is open from 3: 30 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. seven days a week.

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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