Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008

Youth summer programs seen as crime deterrent

Shortage of activities concerns Rosaryville leaders

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Community leaders in Rosaryville are hoping to work with various county agencies in the coming months to bring more summer youth programs to their area.

Barry Schlossberg, president of the Brookwood-Holloway Civic Association, said his neighborhood does not have enough constructive activities for teens and that area schools are under-used over the summer.

‘‘Many of the schools sit empty during the summer months, yet they have gymnasiums and rooms available for programs,” Schlossberg said.

One goal that could be achieved through making more activities available to teens would crime reduction.

‘‘This is not a problem that’s unique to us,” Schlossberg said. ‘‘This is a national problem in terms of youth activities.”

Schlossberg’s civic association has dubbed its effort the ‘‘2008 Youth Initiative.” Its members envision collaboration with the county school system and Department of Parks and Recreation to make more programs available at nearby schools and parks facilities.

Robert McNeal, president of the Williamsburg Estates Citizens’ Association, said the lack of public transportation is also a problem, because the only available activities are beyond walking distance.

‘‘Over where we live, we have no public transportation,” said McNeal, whose community is off Rosaryville Road at Frank Tippett Road. ‘‘We have no buses, and it’s difficult for kids to go anywhere on their own and be involved in some activities in the summer. It’s just a big void.”

McNeal said his organization tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to get busing into their area specifically to give teens better access to public facilities. McNeal’s group is not directly participating in the Brookwood-Holloway initiative, but McNeal said he had spoken in the past with Schlossberg about the problem.

Schools that Brookwood-Holloway residents have in mind include Rosaryville and Melwood elementary schools, and Frederick Douglass High School.

There usually is a fee – which varies depending on the program – for outside groups to use public school facilities, said Lynn McCawley, a spokeswoman with Prince George’s County Public Schools.

In the case of civic associations trying to organize youth programs, members would have to discuss their ideas directly with a school’s principal, McCawley said.

With youth programs, school officials ‘‘would consider it an educational partnership and more likely than not waive the fee,” McCawley said.

Examples of possible activities include a chess club and a regular movie night, said Schlossberg, adding that, ‘‘There are a lot of ideas being thrown around.”

Schlossberg said organizers would draw upon community members to run new events or try to attract existing events through the county parks and recreation department.

He said his group had not yet determined what new programs would cost because they are in their early stages of planning. He did expect the cost to be minimal because the facilities already exist.

Lindsay Smith, a senior planner in the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s community planning division, agreed there is a need in the area.

‘‘There are other civic associations that share very similar concerns,” said Smith, who attended a December meeting of the Brookwood-Holloway Civic Association to discuss their plans. ‘‘They want to get some programming in their neighborhood that kids can walk to, and I think it’s a very good idea.”

Smith said the nearest community center, which hosts regular activities through the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, is about five miles away in Upper Marlboro. The center temporarily is closed for renovations.

Some schools in the county are considered park schools, meaning they have facilities owned by the parks department that serve the community, Smith said. Patuxent Elementary is one example.

But nearby Rosaryville Elementary is not a park school, although Smith said she is now exploring the possibility of bringing community activities to the school.

McNeal said that even if programs were brought to Rosaryville Elementary, transportation would still be an issue for teens in his neighborhood because the road from Williamsburg Estates to the school lacks sidewalks.

Schlossberg agreed that bringing more activities to the area would not be easy because of the number of county agencies that might need to get involved.

‘‘It’s a very complex issue,” Schlossberg said. ‘‘But we’ve found that if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to start somewhere.”