Centers offering youth safe hangouts Programs seek to curb trouble by countering 'nothing to do' blues

November 27, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last month, Clifton "Chip" Cates was expelled from Broadneck High School for assaulting another student.

With nothing else to do, he stayed home and got high. When an acquaintance said he knew of a house they could break into, the 17-year-old thought it sounded like a good idea.

He wound up arrested and charged with breaking and entering and with possession of drug paraphernalia.

"It's been a real mess," said his mother, Cindy Rozmarynowski.

Unable to return to school, and with charges pending against him, Cates thinks he may have found the help he needs to change his life.

The Broadneck Family Youth Center opened Nov. 14 in a tiny space next to Graul's market in Cape St. Claire.

Rozmarynowski investigated and insisted her son try it.

Reluctant at first, Cates is now a convert.

"It gives me something to do with my spare time so I'm not out doing other things," he said. "It keeps me out of trouble."

Cates received counseling, a treatment referral and a job of sorts: He helps the volunteers who operate the center.

"Hearing them say that he's good with the kids has really made a difference," said Rozmarynowski. "It's done wonders for his self-esteem."

The Broadneck Family Youth Center is one of two programs begun in Anne Arundel County this year in response to community concerns about crimes committed by juveniles.

"We're concerned with giving kids a safe place to go," said Barbara Birkenheuer, director of the other new program, the Woods Community Center.

Crime on rise

As of Oct. 1, juveniles had been charged with 4,745 offenses, according to police records. That's just 133 fewer than were committed by juveniles in all of 1996, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which reports that 4,878 crimes were committed by juveniles in Anne Arundel County last year.

"I know it's been on the increase, but I couldn't tell you why. We've seen an increase in juvenile arrests over the last few years," said Lt. Jeff Kelly, spokesman for the Anne Arundel police.

Experts say juveniles can be prevented from committing crimes.

"The big thing is having something for youth to do -- something jTC positive. I see the difference it's made," said Vernon Jones, program director for Youth Crime Watch America, a Florida-based nonprofit program with branches in 16 states.

Daniel Webster, an assistant professor of public health at the Johns Hopkins University, said little hard research supports Jones' conclusion, but he still believes Jones is right.

"My suspicion is that if you provide things for kids to do they're going to get into less trouble," he said.

Cates, and others who have begun to frequent the new Broadneck center, agree.

"There's nothing else for us to do around here," said Stephen Noll, 11, of Cape St. Claire during a recent Saturday visit to the center.

He and friends, Andrew Kitchin and Alex Balick, both 11, said they would probably be skateboarding, fighting with their siblings or "just hanging out" if the center had not opened this month.

Instead, they have access to a stash of board games including Life and Othello, books, video games, movies and a pool table. The center is open from 2 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and there are plans to expand it to a seven-day-a-week operation by the end of the year.

The Woods program, operated out of an old church that used to be part of the YMCA, offers similar activities, but in a more structured environment.

For $45 a week, or $30 for three days a week, middle school students enrolled in the Woods program spend their afternoons in Recreation, which includes volleyball and basketball; Quiet Time, which can mean homework, reading or working on a computer; and Social Focus, which includes crafts, field trips, board games and guest speakers.

The Woods program does not operate on weekends, but there are plans to begin a Friday and Saturday night coffee house in January.

"Statistics show that the hours after school are prime areas to target," said Claude Nelson, a regional coordinator for the drug prevention program DARE. "The idea is to provide a place for kids to go to after school where they can be supervised."

Adult supervision

Adults supervise both the Broadneck and Woods programs at all times.

Similar programs in other parts of the state have enthusiastic supporters, and a few equally vocal detractors.

In the city and county of Baltimore, Police Athletic League activities have had a huge impact, as have a number of church and sports-related programs, said DARE's Nelson.

In Wicomico County, an after-school program, DARE Plus, has a waiting list as it enters its second year.

"There's so much enthusiasm that it's been overwhelming," said Beth Westbrook, the DARE coordinator for Wicomico County. That program, which is free, offers Spanish lessons, tutoring, cooking and pottery classes.

"It's a resurgence of an old idea," said Nelson. "It's just been brought back to address today's problems."

Police and public health employees say it is too soon to tell how much of an impact that program or Anne Arundel's new programs will have on the juvenile crime rate, but they are hopeful.

"They're on the right track," said Debra Rabinowitz, deputy director for prevention services for the Anne Arundel Department of Health.

Chip Cates agreed, and said that he, at least, will not be part of next year's juvenile crime statistics.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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