Sometimes, all it takes to set a troubled kid on the right path is a new perspective. Such as the view from a boat sailing in Annapolis' harbor.
Annapolis police Detective Shelley White decided that a boat ride — and the different view of the community it would provide — was just what was needed for a youngster who had stepped outside the law.
"The Chesapeake Bay is his backyard, and he had never seen his backyard," said White, tapped by Annapolis' new police chief to head JOINS, Juveniles in Need of Supervision, an intervention program the city began in the spring.
"And he had never seen what his town looks like from the water."
When the boat landed, the 14-year-old White had chosen to mentor asked whether they could get something to eat. But not at McDonald's, he said. At one of those restaurants they saw along the water.
"I had to reach into my pocket," said White with a smile. "But all we talked about was the adventure on the boat. He was so excited. Then he wanted to know what we were doing the rest of the week."
From there the relationship matured. The boy who was in danger of a trip through a juvenile justice wringer because of a fistfight began attending Archbishop Spalding football games to watch White's son, Shelly, play. When his son was injured and required a trip to the hospital, the young man told White to just drop him at home and go to his son.
"Suddenly, he wasn't thinking about himself anymore. He was thinking about me," said White, 52, an 18-year veteran of the police force.
The next day, the boy called excitedly to tell White something he already knew: His son's picture was on the front page of the sports section of the local paper.
Annapolis' JOINS program, adapted from a similar Baltimore County program, is aimed at children, ages 7 to 17, who run afoul of the law for minor offenses: fights, graffiti, trespassing, shoplifting.
"Detective White is absolutely the right police officer for the job," said Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop. "He has a passion for helping kids and it doesn't stop here. What we are doing is giving these kids a chance to turn it around."
"The chief's idea was to take care of the little things before they become big things," said White.
With the support of Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who lives in Annapolis, and Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, and with the connections White has made in the community over the years, JOINS will match young people in minor trouble with mentors and programs that can provide the kind of new perspective you can only get by looking at your community — and your place in it — in a new way.
The program will take on those juveniles who are lost in the middle. Neither high achievers nor hard-core offenders, they have simply stumbled on the road to adulthood, and White believes a mentor can pick up a child like that and set him on his feet.
White said sometimes all it takes is someone in a uniform showing up at the house to give the parents the backbone — and the reinforcement — they need to take charge. Other times, it might take a lesson from a store owner on the ripple effect of shoplifting on a family business or on a community, he said.
The program will take on about 35 children a year, and each will be under White's watchful eyes for about 90 days — longer if needed.
Those watchful eyes tear up when White recalls his own mentor, Grandison Madison Phelps Jr., a San Diego minister White's mother nagged into taking on her son, though he had five children of his own, because the boy's own father, divorced from his mother, worked long hours and was not available.
"She told him to practice what he preached, and he made me a member of his family," said White. "When he died, he was a rich man, but he left me nothing but the ability to fish for myself every day for the rest of my life.
"I live my life trying to do what he asked," said White. "Give back."
If you would like to volunteer to mentor or tutor a young person in Anne Arundel County, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-897-9207 or go to volunteerannearundel.org.
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