The cobblestone streets and historic mansions of Old Town Alexandria are just across the Potomac River, but they were more like another world for a teenager growing up in Southeast Washington.
As Darel Bellamy took a break recently from his job as a paid intern building boats at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, the 18-year-old smiled solemnly and remembered his former life.
“It got to the point where gunshots were like doorbells to me,” he said. “You just looked out the window to see who was next. I had friends who got killed and friends who did the killing. And I could have been next.”
Mr. Bellamy has come a long way since his family fled the city for the Virginia suburbs.
Perhaps the only person who can appreciate that as much as Mr. Bellamy, a recent high school graduate, is somebody who used to put young men behind bars.
“I didn’t want to develop a preconceived notion with anyone I was working with,” said Fred Geiger, a 3½-year foundation volunteer. “I came into the program with the idea everyone would start off from Jump Street, and see how things worked out. In the beginning, I was actually learning as well.”
Before becoming a foundation volunteer, Mr. Geiger, who is now retired, was a Drug Enforcement Administration officer, an intelligence officer, a U.S. attache in Germany and New York City police officer.
He said he has seen the worst of the streets and now wants to help young men from turning to a life of crime.
Mr. Geiger, 60, worried at first about whether the students would welcome him and if everybody’s history would be accepted. Now he says “there was absolutely no trouble at all.”
The foundation started in 1982 as a club for boat enthusiasts, including some of the area’s most wealthy residents.
The boat-building program started in 1992 with the goal of helping disadvantaged young men and women develop discipline, self-confidence and other skills to help them get jobs, in addition to teaching them how to build boats.
By the spring of 1997, the foundation had already built several row boats and was building a rowing skiff in a local high school.
“We wanted to reach out to young people who were at risk educationally and behaviorally and offer them a way to improve,” said Kent Barnekov, the foundation’s new executive director and former board of directors member. “We started to see that many of [the students] had never been taught responsibility, so they did not have a clear perspective of what would be required of them in the workforce.View Entire Story
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