Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Activity provides alternatives for youths - Gazette

Brainstorming session explores recreational options for young people looking for less structured programs

by Mike Meno | Staff Writer |Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

During his last summer before entering middle school, Van Ess Akrofi, 11, has been attending day camp at the Takoma Park Community Center, where he plays games, goes on field trips and talks with his friends.

But when the scheduled activities end, Akrofi says he'll often go to the Community Center's game room and teen lounge, where he and his friends can play cards, pingpong, Xbox and other activities without the direct supervision of adults.

"Sometimes we just find things to do that aren't in the schedule," he said during camp last week.

Community leaders in Takoma Park and Silver Spring have been brainstorming ways to expand recreational options and destinations to area youths, many of whom, like Akrofi, aren't always looking for highly-structured activities to keep them busy.

One of the biggest concerns of area residents, according to a recent survey by the Takoma Park Community Action Group, is what those young people are doing when they are unsupervised and where they choose to hang out. In response to the results, the organization, led by Takoma Park City Councilman Terry Seamens (Ward 4), hosted a gathering of area youth activity providers to talk about what options young people have, what others can be created and how to best advertise potential activities.

For example, Ellen Robbins, the director of the Takoma Park Maryland Library, said the library hosts several ongoing youth activities, such as a Tween Book Club, that many teenagers ignore, choosing instead to hang out by the library's wall facing Philadelphia Avenue.

"My perception is that often they want a lack of structure," Robbins said at the meeting last week. "They want to hang out. They want to be with their friends."

Takoma Park Middle School Principal Renay Johnson said she often receives calls from residents concerned about children loitering around their neighborhoods in the hours after school, and she suggested leaders focus more on evening and weekday activities, to which others agreed.

"They got a home, they got a school, they need a third place," said Brad Stewart, provost of Montgomery College's Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus.

Diana Kohn, who works with Historic Takoma, said "the kids will find a place if we don't give it to them," and pointed to the soon-to-be-gone artificial turf at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring as an example of how youths can flock to locations not intended as a hangout.

Montgomery Blair High School Principal Daryl Williams said one of the major obstacles in actively recruiting children into programs, however, is often their parents, who cannot speak English, aren't able to pay for the activities or can't transport them to places.

David Ottalini, past president of the Blair PTA and the father of two children who went through Montgomery County schools, said his children always found activities, such as soccer, to keep them occupied, but it sometimes wasn't easy. He suggested a centralized list of area youth programs that parents could use as a starting point.

"That's what frustrated me," he said. "The resources are out there, but finding information about them is not always easy."

The following is a partial list of area organizations that provide summer and after-school youth activities in the greater Silver Spring area and participated in a recent discussion hosted by the Takoma Park Community Action Group:

Camp Fire USA: provides small group indoor and outdoor programs. E-mail

Community Bridges: offers leadership programs for young, at-risk girls. E-mail

Digital Bridge: provides technology training to rural, low-income and immigrant youth and adults. Go to

Gandhi Brigade Youth Media: youth directed community media project provides in video and graphic design. Go to

IMPACT Silver Spring: provides community programs for local schools and neighborhoods. Go to

Maryland International Corridor C-SAFE program: community-based crime prevention initiative in the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. E-mail

Safe Takoma: crime prevention program in the Takoma Metro area. E-mail

Montgomery County Recreation Department. Go to

Takoma Park Recreation Department. Go to

YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. Go to

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