Youth Programs Working, More Work to Do - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

07/22/05

Youth Programs Working, More Work to Do

There were five murders in about a week in Chatham County. Several shootings, and a couple of common denominators. Nearly all cases involved drugs and teens.

There are programs designed to help at-risk youth. But are they working? The stats say one thing, but area program directors say otherwise.

Dewayne Jones is familiar with dealing with bullies and peer pressure. He says he ran around with the wrong crowd for years.

"Hanging out with friends, doing drugs and stuff," he recalled.

But three years ago, that all changed. "I had got locked up. That's what really changed it for me, when I got locked up, just being young and stupid."

Dewayne was lucky. He found the Reality Check youth program, which helped him turn his life around.

"I have a job, I go out and work for it," he said. "I ain't got to do all the bad things I used to do for money. I have more respect for myself because for that."

These are lessons that are being taught in programs throughout Savannah.

Graylan Quarterman has been coming to the YMCA for nine years and now works with at-risk youths there. "I tell them to be confident, keep their goals, don't let the influences of the world take them down," she said.

But are the lessons reaching the right teens? Chatham County Youth Commission leader Van Johnson believes the programs work, but says there's still too many kids falling through the cracks.

"You have to reach kids and have continual contact with them over a period of time," he said. "Unfortunately, these programs have an overabundance of kids, they're not putting their hands on enough kids. We need to do a better job of that."

It's something that can only be done one child at a time and counselors say they are seeing a positive impact from these programs.

"A lot of changes in kids' attitudes, the way they present themselves, it's coming along pretty good," said Quarterman.

Just ask Dewayne. "Now my brothers and sisters look up to me," he said. "They see another person, the good side."

There are many youth programs to choose from. But another potential problem to reaching more kids is lack of funding, which everyone agrees there needs to be more of.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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