WASHINGTON – When kids from the Carroll Avenue and Quebec Terrace Apartments saw that tension was building between warring gangs six months ago, they could have turned on each other.
Instead, they turned to their HOME mentors for advice, and the issue was resolved peacefully after a meeting between kids and adults at a Silver Spring community center.
“We were able to get the kids to agree to involve the police and let them react to the problem,” said Ray Moreno, a staffer at the Silver Spring YMCA who participates in HOME, Hope & Opportunity in a Multicultural Environment.
The program was held out to a congressional subcommittee Thursday as one of several examples nationally of preventive solutions to the rising problem of juvenile crime.
The testimony came as the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families considered a bill which would give states more control of how to spend federal grants.
“Too many of our teen-agers are becoming involved with crime,” Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement. “This bill takes a strong step toward stopping juvenile crime in its tracks by providing real alternatives to our young people at risk.”
Despite the recent drop in overall crime, the number of juvenile arrests nationally increased by 35 percent from 1988 to 1997, according to data from the Department of Justice.
In Maryland, juvenile arrests are also on the rise, jumping from 55,170 in 1995 to 58,025 in 1997, according to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.
Barbara Ott, director of youth services at the Silver Spring YMCA, said her organization is taking juvenile crime prevention one step at a time, beginning with HOME.
HOME, which is housed in two vacant apartments at the Silver Spring complex, offers recreation, mentoring and educational programs for kids, along with vocational training, English and other classes for their parents.
Before the program started in 1991, Ott told the subcommittee, she would not have referred to the Carroll Avenue and Quebec Terrace Apartments as a community.
“There were African American, African national, Latino, Vietnamese and Cambodian residents who lived next door to each other but did not communicate,” she said. “They were crowded and isolated and living in fear.”
HOME has changed all that, said Ott, who told the subcommittee that more than 700 children and parents in the community participate in the program.
Although there are no statistics to track the area’s juvenile crime rate, Ott said the number of school absences by kids in the HOME program fell by more than half, from 572 in 1996 to 274 in 1998.
HOME received $94,777 in federal High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area funds, and the YMCA and Montgomery County also contribute money to keep the program afloat.
Ott said she would like to see less-restrictive guidelines on how states can use federal money for juvenile justice programs, because different areas have different needs.
The best results often come from preventive measures, she said. An official with the state Department of Juvenile Justice echoed her philosophy.
“I think in the long run, the primary prevention is your best intervention,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Delmas Wood. “That’s certainly a better bang for your buck and a wiser investment in the long run.”
Ott said she is looking for money to start similar programs in the nearby Northampton and Southampton communities as well as Rosemary Hills. “It’s better to do well what we do and use it as a starting point,” she said. “HOME is the glue that holds the child, family and community together.” -30-