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City funds gone rec centers scramble


Gwendolyn Jones recalls how it was two years ago when she wanted to go to the recreation center near her home in the Flag House Courts housing development.

The 17-year-old remembers children outside the East Baltimore recreation center refused admittance by adults playing basketball.

Shortly before the city-run facility closed, she hauntingly recalls, adults gathered in corners of the center to sell and use drugs.

Since then, several of the rec centers in poor neighborhoods have been reopened by a private service organization that continually must raise the funds to operate them. This Saturday, a garage sale will be held as part of the continuing effort to keep the doors open.

It is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at the former Pat Hays car dealership at Biddle Street and Maryland Avenue.

"I was disappointed when they closed it down because no one had anywhere to go," the Jones youth said of the Flag House center. "But I'm glad. It was terrible what they were doing in there. They deserved to be closed."

Shortly after the rec center closed because of budget crunches, a Boys and Girls Club of Maryland opened at the Flag House location and at two other closed city recreation centers.

Those clubs opened at Claremont Homes and Hollander Ridge, offering disadvantaged youths cultural, recreational and psychological services.

Hollander Ridge closed last year for renovations, but the other two remain open.

Nevertheless, not everyone visits the centers, choosing instead to engage in typical street activities.

Gerald Matthews, 12, said he has friends who, instead of participating in club activities, throw rocks at cars and get into fights. "But I'd rather be here," young Gerald said.

The Jones youth, a student at Edmondson Westside Skill Center, said she attends the reopened Flag House center daily because the neighborhood offers few positive options.

"There's a lot of pressure living in public housing," she said, "a lot of pressure. My friends say that I'm boring because I don't go out a lot.

"But a lot of my friends are also either pregnant or in jail, too."

Steve Morris, director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Maryland, said the group's goal is to "stop the intergenerational dependence of public assistance."

"Often their [the youths'] mothers and their grandmothers have lived in the public housing, and they think that they will, too," Mr. Morris said. "Often these kids don't see beyond where they live."

Of the 800 youngsters who live in Flag House Courts and Claremont Homes, 85 percent come from single-parent households that have an average income of less than $7,000, club officials say.

Their neighborhoods have widespread crime and drug activity, much of it involving juveniles.

In 1991, 20 percent of all city arrests were of juveniles. There were 1,823 drug-related juvenile arrests the first 11 months of 1991, a 29 percent increase over 1990.

A recent city bar association committee report stated that "much of the dramatic street crimes, killing and drug trafficking in Baltimore City are a direct result of the failures of the juvenile justice system and the low priority placed upon it by our state and local officials and citizens."

The clubs are run by paid staff members, as well as volunteers. Tenant volunteers help run the club at Claremont Homes.

Tucky Ramsey, vice president of the organization's board of directors, said the Boys and Girls Club places a high priority on education and maintains regular contact with schools to check on youngsters' progress.

Financial support for the Boys and Girls Club of Maryland comes from grants and fund-raisers, including money from United Way.

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