While the number of gangs in the Cleveland area is down, according to recent state statistics, the lure of "the life" over young people is still a big concern. With most parents -- whether husband and wife or single -- holding down jobs, more kids than ever are left unsupervised after school hours. In some communities there are programs and facilities where kids can learn, keep occupied and stay out of trouble. Other locales are not so fortunate. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- This Boys' and Girls' Club on Cleveland's west side is a haven for many neighborhood kids. On this cold Monday evening the week before Christmas basketball and billiards rule. But throughout the year the club provides kids with more than just game activities. Reverend Gregory Coles is president of Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Cleveland.
Gregory Coles- Athletics and game room activities are the hooks we use to draw the kids in. So in a games room we ping pong, foos ball, air hockey, that kind of a thing. We have various athletic activities for the kids throughout each year. When they come in and get involved in those, then we get them involved in other things that will ultimately help make them the kind of people that every community needs. People who are productive, who give back.
BR- Those things include homework help and tutoring, computer skills, arts and music activities, and specialized clubs designed to nurture individual interests and talents. In many ways, says Coles, the club picks up the slack where local schools leave off.
GC- There are really, beyond the few athletic outlets that are available and maybe a few instances where there's some after school tutoring for kids that have remedial academic issues, there really aren't that many things for them to do after school.
BR- Coles says that makes places like Boys' and Girls' Clubs a critical community asset, especially for so-called "at-risk" kids -- those who have no one else to structure their time in productive ways when school is out. Jacqueline Bradshaw is the club's Director of Character and Leadership Development.
Jacqueline Bradshaw- We have kids that probably if they weren't with us probably would be standing on a corner selling drugs. But if you can show them something different, just provide them with something different, just a taste -- then you've got 'em. Because that's all they're looking for. They want to belong to something.
BR- Professionals across the board who work with kids agree that one of the biggest contributors to juvenile delinquency is neglect.
Peter Sikora is a Cuyahoga County juvenile Judge. Sikora says when kids are neglected at home they look elsewhere for a sense of belonging. And often its the gangs that step in.
Peter Sikora- We think of kids entering gangs as being totally anti-social and being lawbreakers and not wanting to follow any rules, when it's just quite the opposite. If they really get involved in gang activity, they are very structured. They're told what to wear, what to do, when to do it, how to do it. So they get from the gang often what they're not getting from the family structure.
BR- Mike Walker heads Partnership for a Safer Cleveland, which works extensively with gang-prone youth.
Mike Walker- Most kids are neglected or maltreated not physically, but mentally. Not spending time, not giving direction, not having a role model. Here's something i heard a gang member say many years ago that's still true today; I'd rather be wanted by the police than no one at all. That's deep.
BR- Walker is one of many who believe society has dropped the ball when it comes to kids. He says it's not just an inner city problem, but is spreading to the suburbs as well.
MW- There are more disenfranchised youth that live in suburban Cleveland then there were 5, 10, 15 years ago. Part of it is most of the efforts of improvement in greater Cleveland have not been for the benefit of young people. When we build subdivisions we build senior centers, we don't build youth centers. We don't have a youth development plan in our county.
BR- The Cleveland Boys' and Girls' Clubs has six locations throughout the Cleveland area, and is running at full capacity, serving about 5,000 kids. Reverend Gregory Coles says the organization would like to expand into other unserved neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs, places like Glenville, Collinwood and East Cleveland. He says those communities would welcome them, but can't afford it.
GC- People say "Yes yes yes, bring the Boys' and Girls' Club on, but no no no, we don't have any money to help you do it." Funding is always the issue, and it seems like we can find plenty of money to build jails, but when it comes to giving our young people the best of what we have to offer, nobody's willing to make that sacrifice. I suppose I don't really understand why that is, but that is the way it is.
BR- Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.