By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
angs. Drugs. Dropouts. Troubled kids with big problems.
Saving Youngstown's youth is the focus of a variety of community organizations.
Among the organizations helping to keep kids on the right track -- or get them back on track if they've been derailed -- are Pastor Charles Hudson's Madison Multicultural Center, United Methodist Community Center, and The Pincham Initiative Resource Center Inc.
At Madison School: Based in the old Madison School on Youngstown's East Side, Hudson's programs cater to kids of all ages. Athletic activities -- basketball, volleyball, football, boxing, weightlifting and fishing -- are part of his mentoring program, which seeks to keep kids in school, teach them skills that will help them get jobs, and keep them out of gangs.
Adult mentors monitor each child's situation and develop programs that meet each one's specific needs. A computer center, general and biblical libraries, tutoring, GED preparation and life skills development activities are offered.
Life skills development activities include maintaining the building and grounds, reconditioning houses in disrepair, and landscaping. Requiring kids to perform these duties not only teaches them responsibility, Hudson pointed out, it provides them with transferable skills and helps them develop a sense of pride and accomplishment.
On the day The Vindicator visited, two boys in their early teens were grudgingly mopping a hallway while two younger boys -- 8- or 10-year-olds -- were using the library as a kickboxing arena. Hudson, catching a glimpse of the older boys mopping over a dusty floor and the little boys in the make-believe boxing ring, spurred into action.
"You don't mop a dirty floor. How many times have I told you that?" he boomed. "You have to sweep the dirt up first." The boys put the bucket and pail aside and immediately began dry mopping the dust into a pile near the door.
Hudson turned his attention to the kickboxers next. "Your feet belong on the floor, not on other people," he said as the two boys, heads hanging low and eyes focused on the floor, followed him into the hall where the older boys were cleaning.
"Sit there," he said, pointing to a bench against the wall. "Not together! You, there. And you, over there," he said, motioning to opposite ends of the bench. "What am I going to do with you?" he mumbled. "Your first day here you're acting like that?"
Turning to one of the older boys, Hudson said, "Get him a plastic bag." Then, turning to the older of the two younger boys, he said, "I want you to go outside and pick up papers around this whole building." Bag in hand, the boy scampered out.
The youngest boy squirmed uncomfortably as Hudson sized him up with a penetrating stare.
"Do you know how to clean toilets?"
A nervous smile spread across the boy's face, not sure if Hudson was joking.
"Oh. You like that. Well I'm gonna give you something else." Calling to the boy with the mop he said, "Teach him how to mop the floor."
The younger boy sprang from the bench and eagerly followed the older boy, who filled him in on the finer points of pushing dust into a pile. After a few trips up and down the hall, the older boy passed the mop to the younger boy. The younger boy beamed, having been entrusted with such an important job. The older boy beamed too, as proud of his pupil as he was happy to be relieved of mop duty. The exercise was not a punishment; it was a learning opportunity.
Religious component: A few moments later, Hudson summoned all of the children into the chapel to discuss God, the Bible and Scripture. God is an integral element in the day-to-day operations, and parents must sign a consent form allowing their children to participate in these classes. In dealing with kids involved in gangs, talking about God has a powerful impact, Hudson said.
"Most of these kids come from a religious background." Once they learn what the gang symbols stand for -- usually Satan -- many of them change their ways, he said. "They didn't know they were disrespecting God." Pointing out that their activities frighten neighborhood residents, especially senior citizens, also has a positive effect, Hudson noted. "Most of them were raised by their grandmothers."
Not all of these kids come to the community center. Some report to work sites Hudson has arranged, and he visits with gang members at what he calls "hot spots" throughout the city.
Hudson's community center serves 80 kids a week. It also offers activities for senior citizens and free meeting space for community organizations.
East Side program: United Methodist Community Center at 334 N. Pearl St. on Youngstown's East Side serves hundreds of community residents -- children, teens and adults.
A child-care program offers a safe, nurturing environment for children in grades one through six after school and all day throughout the summer.
Children finish homework, participate in arts-and-crafts and recreational activities, eat nutritious meals and go on field trips to places like the library, Ford Nature Center, Butler Institute of American Art and Youngstown State University, said Millicent Counts, executive director. Fifty-four children participate, the maximum number the program can accommodate.
United Methodist Community Center also mentors teen-agers at risk for dropping out of school or getting into trouble. Among the services it offers are:
UIntensive case management for juvenile felony offenders
URespite care for parents with unruly teen-agers.
URemediation for first-time shoplifters -- teens and adults.
UFamily readiness program that involves parents in their children's schools.
Some of the kids involved have been institutionalized and were ordered by the court to participate, Counts said. "We start with them wherever they are and we build on the positives." Those who may be in danger because of their gang activities are relocated, Counts said.
Pincham center: At The Pincham Initiative Resource Center, 46 N. Phelps St. in downtown Youngstown, the focus is on pupils in danger of failing the Ohio proficiency tests.
"We began with the 12th grade -- it was an emergency intervention," says Edna Pincham, who founded the program with her family in 1997, after her unsuccessful run for mayor. "We started with 36 children that year and we had 35 successes," she reported. Since then, the program has expanded to include children in elementary and junior high schools.
Helping kids pass proficiency tests is important not only because it boosts test scores, but because it builds self-esteem, she said. "To the student it is very important for them to pass because you are valued if you pass. When they do pass they are just jubilant," she said.
Classes continue throughout the year, Pincham said, so seniors unable to graduate in June can still graduate in the same year as the rest of their class. For the past two years, she added, Youngstown city schools have even scheduled a fall graduation ceremony.
More than 50 pupils work with volunteer tutors from the Pincham Center each year.