By James Cullum
For teens and young adults, summer is an opportunity to get into trouble. Using the new Charles Houston Recreation Center as a venue, community groups and City agencies are offering them constructive options. Yesterday, the center held its first Community Empowerment Session, a mini conference designed to equip older teens and young adults with the tools to get jobs and training or start their own businesses.
Last month Lenny Harris had a meeting with the mayor. “There were a bunch of people concerned that kids were hanging out in the streets,” Harris said. “The streets are not their friend. A majority don’t have jobs or job training. They don’t have a trade or a skill. This is a pathway for them. We pulled this thing together quick. People are concerned out here.”
From 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., young adults attended workshops on entrepreneurship, continuing education and career options, overcoming barriers and creating positive work habits to find and keep a job. JobLink, Via Velo, the Heavy Equipment Training Academy, electrical apprenticeship programs with M.C. Dean and the Alexandria Community Services Board participated.
Javon Perrin, 17, is a rising junior at T.C. Williams High School. He wants a job working with people. “Anything would do, for real, just something to get me out the streets and keep me busy,” he said.
Next month, Jason Lewis, 18, will be a senior at T.C. “I want to work with animals when I go to college, so maybe I can work for a shelter,” he said.
Chanel Marshall, 16, eventually wants to design her own clothing line. “I’m going to learn what I need to start my own business and how to keep it going,” she said.
Ronald Frazier is the director of the City’s Office of Youth and Human Services. “We’re here because of concerns from the community that we should do something for the teenagers living in the area,” he said. “We hope to have one of these sessions in the West End at some point.”
Houston After Dark
By 9 p.m., public parks and pools are closed and activities at most of the City’s recreation centers are winding down. That leaves few choices for young people between the ages 17-21 who are looking for something to do. Just in its third week, the 9 p.m. – midnight basketball program at Charles Houston has already led to rivalries.
Every Thursday night, the four teams – the Bisons, the Colonials, the Dukes and the Hoyas - play for bragging rights. The program will end in September. “Some of the guys on the Colonials are 35-years-old and above,” said Mac Slover, the City’s Youth Sports Supervisor. “They recently beat a team of young guys, the Dukes, and four of the Dukes are still playing college basketball.”
Players are invited to participate in regulation high school games. There are no coaches, “and they do just fine without one, since they play all the time together,” Slover said, adding that there are about 45 people registered. “It gives them an alternative from being out on the streets. We’re thinking that this is something that we can do every two months or so – create a new league, and more and more people will get involved.”
Antoine Barksdale likes the prospect of indoor basketball every Thursday night. “It would be good for the area. We need that. It gives people something to do. You got a lot of talent in this area,” he said.
Tracy Barber agreed. “I’m havin’ fun at 44,” he said. “It would be a good idea… [The program] gets people off the streets and keeps them on the inside.”
On Friday evenings the rec center opens its game rooms to the public, “But it’s Friday night,” Slover said, “and there aren’t many people here on Friday. Thursday is the bigger of the two evenings. Thursday night crowds can have as much as 200 people,” he said.