- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

It's costing the federal government millions of dollars to find out what it could have learned for a 35-cent phone call to Catholic Charities' Teen Life Choices.
Oversimplification you say? Maybe, but TLC has, over the past 10 years, found a way to keep young people out of jail, prevent teens from having babies out of wedlock, keep them busy, give them interesting things to do and show them that people do care.
The youth development program at St. Luke's Catholic Church on East Capitol Street in Southeast D.C. focuses on teen pregnancy prevention through abstinence for children and youths ages 10 to 18 years old.
On Sunday, the program celebrated its 10th anniversary and a decade of successes.
"Teen pregnancy is not an isolated situation … it's a lifestyle. There are many reasons why kids make at-risk decisions or choices. So, that's what we address those issues that are relevant to teens," says Helena S. Valentine, TLC's program administrator since its inception.
"Education is the key. We have so many young people who are not working up to their capacity in school. Here, we explain to them that school is like a job. Their grades are their paychecks," Mrs. Valentine says.
Even if teachers don't assign homework in classes, participants in the TLC program don't get off that easy. Each afternoon, the center's academic counselor works one-on-one with the youth and hands out a few assignments of her own.
That suits Robert Childs just fine. Robert, 14, a ninth-grader at Eastern Senior High School says his grades improved since he started with TLC seven months ago.
"My grades went from Ds to Cs and Bs," the tall, lanky teen-ager says proudly.
"During the school year we have formal study periods here, and counselors help us with our assignments," he says.
As Robert's grades improved, so did his overall attitude. At one time Robert tuned out constructive criticism from his teachers. Now, he says he listens to adults without going on the defensive.
He credits TLC for nurturing his God-given ability to sketch and draw. He attends regularly scheduled art classes at the center in which he gets to hone his technique.
"My backup plan is art. I'd like to play football at Florida State or Michigan. Right now, I'm on the junior varsity football team as a running back," Robert says.
Whether Robert pursues a career in art or on the gridiron, Mrs. Valentine will cheer. The point she stresses is that Robert and other teens set goals for the future and make prudent life decisions.
To that end, TLC offers youth employment training for the 25 to 30 core participants who come to the center at 4914 Ayers Place daily during the school year and during summer vacations.
There's an array of classes ranging from computer and art to television and film production. The teen-agers learn how to write movie scripts, put together crews and how to film on location, Mrs. Valentine says.
To complement the center's curriculum, experts in various fields visit TLC and discuss specific topics or career opportunities. Staff counselors also lead discussions Mondays through Thursday on abuse and its many forms to proper telephone etiquette and entrepreneurship.
"On Wednesdays, we talk about anger and violence. We tell [the teens] how uncontrolled anger turns into violence. A lot of youngsters and adults have displaced anger. They're not angry with the people they take their anger out on they're just angry," Mrs. Valentine says.
"FBI agents come out and talk with the kids. They've adopted us, and we've adopted them. The agents talk about careers in the bureau," she says.
"Oftentime, the kids want to talk about current events in the news because they can relate to the different homicides in the community. They knew Billy, John or Sue," Mrs. Valentine says.
On Fridays during the summers, the group travels to venues such as the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, the Pentagon, the Newseum or maybe to take in a few holes of miniature golf at Haines Point.
A little TLC transformed DeAndrea Ebiasah, a self-described tomboy into a self-assured young lady. A student at Edison Friendship Collegiate Academy Charter School in Northeast D.C., DeAndrea, 14, joined the program four years ago. Her association with TLC is a plus in many ways.
"I wasn't applying myself in school, but now I'm an A, B student. I've learned how to be responsible since I've been in TLC. And, the best part is my peers are here, and the staff cares about us. I've known Mrs. Valentine for a long time she's like my grandmother," DeAndrea says.
A decade ago, Mrs. Valentine was asked to start up the teen pregnancy-prevention program in Ward 7. She gladly stepped to the plate to help.
"I fell in love with the children and the community and decided to stay on. What's so unique about this program is so many people in this community wanted to address the prevention of teen pregnancy and infant mortality," she says.
The community rallied. They got an assist from former Ward 7 D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford, who provided guidance. The District's Office of Maternal and Child Health joined in and funded the program for four years before the city's budget crisis hit, Mrs. Valentine says.
But, thanks to local businesses and organizations who felt strongly about this cause TLC was back in full swing within six months. The program continues through funding from the D.C. government as well as private agencies and organizations.
"This is an area where young people are disappointed a lot. You have to build their trust. We have so much to offer them, and they realize it," Mrs. Valentine says.
Teen Life Choices isn't confined to the center there's an outreach component at work in elementary and junior high schools in the District. This way, TLC counselors can reach out and touch the lives of hundreds of children. Mrs. Valentine's not content to stop there.
"We're expanding the program. We have six schools participating in the outreach program now. But, we're adding eight more elementary and junior high schools in the fall," Mrs. Valentine says.
Brian Redding recognizes how he has benefited since joining TLC in March. Like Robert, Brian, 14, attends Eastern Senior High School. He's learning valuable life lessons in the program. Frustration often leads to a short fuse.
"It's helping me with my behavior. Sometimes, I have a temper, but since I've been in the program I'm learning to control it. In the past, if I didn't do my chores properly I was asked to do them again. I'd become frustrated. Now, I just count to 10 and get up and do them again," he says.
If there were no Teen Life Choices program, Brian says his grade point average would suffer.
"Sometimes I didn't do my homework … Here, we have assigned study periods. In the past, I would hang out late at night. I stopped that behavior because I wanted to get good grades," Brian says.
"I was the salutatorian of the eighth grade at Fletcher Johnson this year. I had to buckle down and study, get my temper in check and go to all of my classes. Today, I feel a sense of accomplishment," he says with a huge smile.

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