WASHINGTON – When Darnell Roberts’ friend asked him a few years ago if he wanted to start robbing people, 13-year-old Darnell agreed because he was beginning to feel the pressure to have money.
Three days later, he chose a different path and joined a local YMCA.
Today, the 16-year-old Montgomery Blair High School student is maintaining good grades, working part-time and helping raise money through fund-raisers for the Carroll Avenue/Quebec Terrace Community Center in Silver Spring.
“I’d have probably ended up in prison” if it wasn’t for after-school programs at the center, said Darnell. “It most definitely keeps me out of trouble.”
Darnell was one of a dozen teens from Silver Spring who were on Capitol Hill Tuesday for the release of a YMCA report that said kids are more likely to use drugs, drink alcohol and get poorer grades if they are left unsupervised after school.
The report — which surveyed about 500 American teens between the ages of 14 and 17 in January — found that unsupervised teens are significantly more likely to engage in activities that place them at risk. It said they are five times more likely to be D students compared, three times more likely to use marijuana and other drugs and also more likely to engage in sex at a younger age.
“It’s not just the guys that face pressures, girls are always pressured to have sex,” said LaToya Jones, a 15-year-old Blair student. “They (the after- school programs) definitely kept me out of trouble.”
The report said that while one-quarter of teens who participate in after- school activities drink alcohol, one-third of those who don’t participate drink.
It also claimed that more than half of teens wished there were more after- school programs.
“These programs have major impacts on these kids. . .to have a caring adult to hear their problems,” said Ray Moreno, the director of the Carroll Avenue/Quebec Terrace center. “They’re needed so much.”
Moreno said in his more than three years as director of the center, which is part of the YMCA, he has seen “significant” results from the literacy programs implemented. He said he has seen about a 50 percent decline in suspension rates and a similar increase in school attendance among kids who participate in his center’s programs.
Moreno called Darnell a prime example of one of those kids.
Darnell learned about the center through a friend and contacted Moreno. If they had not reached each other when they did, Darnell said, he would not be doing as well as he is.
“He’s been doing great,” said Moreno. “We’re very proud of him.”
Darnell has been working since last fall at the Hoover Fisher florist shop in the Four Corners area of Silver Spring where employees say “he is a wonderful example of someone with a good attitude.”
“He’s very proud of his participation in the YMCA,” said Ellen Scott, an employee of the store who said she has taken Darnell under her wing. “He’s come a long road. . .he has a very fine character.”