Centers open late for youths this summer
Officials hope new strategy will keep teens out of trouble
Twenty-eight recreation centers and schools across Prince George's County will stay open until midnight this summer in hopes of curbing youth loitering and crime.
Known as "Safe Summer," the new hours and activities offered will continue past the regular 10 p.m. closing time, giving youth ages 12 to 24 a chance for extra pool swimming, basketball tournaments, pizza parties and other activities once school ends.
Park officials hope the new program, which cost an extra $750,000 to run countywide from June 22 to Aug. 22, will help give youth a chance to interact and stay out of trouble during crucial hours.
"Until now, there was this assumption that if you were underage, you should be home with your family," said Kelli Beavers, youth coordinator for the county's Department of Parks and Recreation. "But what we've found is this is the exact time that services are needed."
Officials tried the program in the southern portion of the county last summer at the request of Councilman Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills.
"There was a real demand for structured activities," Knotts said. "Everybody complained that young people had nothing to do. … Whether there was an incident or not, people were always blaming the kids."
The late night hours in Knott's district proved a success, Beavers said. More than 7,000 children participated in everything from cooking classes to Nintendo Wii competitions last summer and centers did not report any negative incidents.
Beavers recalled driving up the hill of Marcy Avenue near the department's Glassmanor community center last summer and seeing clear sidewalks.
"I went in and they were all in the recreation center," she said. "And their moms were there, their aunts were there. That's when I thought to myself, This is just gonna take off.'"
Tay Weems, 19, of Temple Hills began taking advantage of the late hours during the pilot program last year.
"Before, I would just be chillin', hanging out in the crib, stuff like that," Weems said. "It was pretty boring. Kids can get up to trouble when there's nothing to do."
Weems said he now comes home from college in the summers to play basketball and take spinning classes at the Temple Hills Community Center — exercise that helps him prepare for football at Morgan State University in the fall.
"I can't wait till June," he said.
Late night sites were selected across the county based on community requests and crime rates. Two sites in Langley Park and Marlowe Heights were chosen because 65 serious crimes were reported in a one-mile radius between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. last summer.
In all, roughly half of the county's recreation centers will be open until midnight during the summer months, park officials said, including several schools. In addition to regular staff, police will be on duty at the centers.
County officials are footing the bill for the extra hours. Unlike the department's daytime camps and programs that charge user fees for sessions, admission to the Safe Summer late activities is free beginning at 6 p.m. until close.
Teens need to have a youth identification card issued from the department, which requires a signature from a parent or guardian and proof of county residency. The identification cards are free.
"We didn't want there to be any barrier to participation," said Julie Forker, deputy director of the department.
For information on locations and activities for Safe Summer, visit www.pgsafesummer.com.
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.