Project Change says teen haven would be heaven
Mar. 22, 2000
Peggy Vaughn
Staff Writer

Youths working

for positive change speak before GOCA

Project Change, a youth-driven organization committed to improving life for teens in Olney, told members of the Greater Olney Civic Association last week that area teens need a safe place to "hang out."

Since forming two years ago with the support of Montgomery General Hospital, the group has grown from a handful of Sherwood High School students to 22 members, including a few from Col. Zadok A. Magruder High School in Derwood.

The group is committed to bringing positive change to Olney, according to member Jeff Davis.

Its ultimate goal is to find a home away from home for local youths, an alcohol- and drug-free place where teens can safely socialize.

And since it's "home," the teens want a large say in how things are run.

"Project Change just wants some sort of safe haven in Olney, a structure, a place where teens can hang out," Davis said. "Teens simply don't have a place to go and there are lots of negative consequences to that."

In pursuit of that goal, the group met with Carl M. Freeman Retail, manager of Olney Village Mart shopping center, and the Silver Diner in Rockville, a Mecca for Olney teens.

The youths hoped to negotiate a space to call their own in the shopping center, or to convince the Silver Diner to open a restaurant in Olney.

Those dreams have yet to materialize, but not for wont of hard work on the part of the youths.

The group hosted a substance-free pool party that drew over 200 teens last summer, assisted with such community projects as Olney Night Out and Olney Community Night, and won first place for a float in the Olney Days parade.

Its members spoke before the Olney Chamber of Commerce, to peers during Rosa Parks Middle School Mentor Program and at two national conferences on youth safety.

It recently conducted a survey of cars leaving Sherwood High School's parking lot and found 29 percent of car passengers did not wear seat belts, according to member Mandy Woodfield.

"We didn't do this to get kids in trouble," she said. "We're just trying to get them aware of the problem."

The group came to GOCA armed with other survey results to show a change is both needed and desired by the community at large. The survey said:

* Eighty-eight percent of Olney parents and youths agreed Olney lacks local activities for youths on weekends. Opening a dance club or bowling alley ranked high on the wish list of both groups.

* Ninety-five percent of the local business community thinks Olney lacks activities for teens, and 30 percent report experiencing "problems" with teens as a consequence.

The group asked GOCA for assistance in realizing its dream of finding a safe, substance-free place for teens to gather and for help in grant-writing efforts.