Six months ago, Howard Alexander Jr., a 26-year-old father of three, was flipping burgers at McDonald's with no ambitions for a career. Today, he is working toward a career as a printer and holding down a job to support his children.
But Project Focus, the program that he and other minority young people say helped them get started, apparently is shutting its doors, a victim of federal budget cuts.
"I'm very disappointed," said Mr. Alexander. "All they're doing is making better criminals by cutting out a program like this."
The program, which began six months ago, is among three in the state that are financed through a $168,000 federal grant.
President Clinton cut the money for the programs in the budget he sent Congress in February. Because neither house of Congress has restored the money, the programs will close June 30.
STAR (Students At Risk), at Hagerstown Community College, and Fresh Start, at Baltimore City Community College, are the other programs that were cut.
Each program enrolled at least 30 students.
"It's a real shame," said Robert Schweriner, director of the Anne Arundel program, which would have received $50,000 annually for two years. "We were doing a great job of assisting minority youths who were at risk, and just as you get started, the rug is pulled out from under you."
Anthony P. Armbrister, program coordinator, said he has worked through Planning Action Committees of Anne Arundel County and the Young Fathers of Annapolis program to find potential participants for the program.
In the program, Mr. Armbrister assesses the skills and interests of the youths, sets up workshops to help them learn about careers and starts them on the path to training for jobs.
When Mr. Armbrister learned that the project may close, a third of his students were enrolled in Anne Arundel Community College or taking General Equivalency Diploma courses.
Another third had attended workshops or employment seminars at the community college, and the others were deciding on their career paths.
Eight participants who had gone through orientation had not moved on to the assessment phase.
"I think the program has provided a good return on the dollar," Mr. Armbrister said. "Every kid you help is a saving on money you'd spend to rehabilitate or incarcerate someone who'd be going to jail because there is no hope."
Mr. Alexander, of Eastport, was involved in the young fathers program before joining Project Focus, which found him an internship with an Annapolis printer and helped him enroll in graphics courses at the community college.
He described the project as "an outlet, a way to improve yourself" and added that several young men could benefit from the direction the program has given its participants.