A recent playground brawl at Wilde Lake Middle School between 13-year-olds Michael Davis and Alywin Thompson landed the youths in court -- the court of Columbia's Each One Reach One summer camp.
The fight started when Alywin made a derogatory comment to Michael, who responded with his fists. So with camp members -- mostly boys from Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice middle schools -- as lawyers and camp co-founder Vince Guida as judge, a verdict was reached: Both youths were guilty.
They should have found a better way to relate to each other and resolve their conflicts, said Michael, who'll enter ninth grade at Wilde Lake High School this fall.
"Use your brain, not your fists," he said. "Your fists will get you places, but not as good ones as your brain can."
The mock court is just one of the alternatives Mr. Guida and co-founder Dan Forester show youths for resolving problems without violence. Learning to relate peacefully to others is one aspect of the camp's goal of giving its 35 members the chance to succeed.
Mr. Guida and Mr. Forester, both 24, grew up together in Harper's Choice village and still live there. They say that their Columbia upbringing is partly responsible for their successes, and they want to give back to Columbia by helping its next generation.
"Growing up in Columbia influenced me in a positive way, seeing people from all different backgrounds come together to have a nice way of life," said Mr. Guida, who is completing a master's degree in teaching at the Johns Hopkins University and will teach social studies at Patuxent Valley Middle this fall.
Mr. Forester graduated from Ithaca College in 1993 and teaches physical education at Weller Road Elementary in Wheaton.
The name of the camp, said Mr. Guida, is "a message to society that if each person would reach another person, then more people would be successful in life."
This summer camp, which is in its second summer of operation, expects repeat business. Its goal is to keep the youths enrolled from the time they're middle school students until they graduate from high school.
Faculty at Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice middle schools recommend boys who they think could use the extra support the camp provides. (A camp for girls may be added later.) Members come to the camp, held at Wilde Lake Middle, five days a week for six weeks during the summer.
Their camp days are filled with field trips, guest speakers, sports activities and small group workshops directed by the five camp counselors on topics such as AIDS, relationships, poetry, rap music sessions and nonviolent conflict resolution.
"It's a very directed program," said Barbara Lawson, executive director of Columbia Foundation, which provides much of the camp funding. "They use real creative ways in reaching the young people. They have a way of wrapping education into recreation."
During the school year, members meet with camp counselors for tutoring and can participate on the camp's fall and spring soccer teams.
Last year, the camp's roster listed 25 youths. But with the camp's budget more than doubling from last year's $15,000, to $35,000, 10 more boys were recruited.
Besides the foundation, additional contributors are the United Way, the Rouse Co. and local Rotary clubs.
The camp charges a $25 fee to the students for the summer camp. Similar full-day programs in the area can cost upward of $50 per week.
Some youths said that the conflict-resolution lessons are neglected in the world outside the camp.
"If this had been a regular school, all of us would have been in a fight by now. Here, you always have someone looking out for you," Michael said.