- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

It wasn’t until Marcus Bryant joined the Youth For Tomorrow program that he was able to kick his three-year-long drug habit.

Now, five months later, the 16-year-old D.C. resident no longer smokes marijuana several times a day.

On Saturday, Marcus joined the thousands of people who came out to show their support for the program at its 24th annual Country Fair and Auctions in Bristow, Va. The daylong event was expected to raise more than $500,000 for the program, which helps at-risk teenage boys and girls. Last year, the event raised $400,000.

Youth For Tomorrow founder Joe Gibbs, who also is the former coach of the Washington Redskins, said that the fair exemplifies what his organization is about.

“For me, this is much more important than football games. This is having an impact on young people’s lives and giving them a chance,” said Mr. Gibbs, a Super Bowl champion coach.

The nearly 200-acre campus off Linton Hall Road, where the fair was held, houses about 70 full-time residents. More than 900 youth have gone through its five-phase program, which began in 1986 and includes schooling and counseling.

Most residents participate in the program for nine to 12 months and are referred by family members, social workers, foster care and probation officers. There is an application process and an interview. Residents can receive their high school diploma from the program.

Those like Marcus who are participating in Mr. Gibbs’ program are thankful to have gotten such an opportunity to turn their lives around.

“I think this is a really good program. It can help a lot of kids,” Marcus said. “It shows you better ways of how to go through life when you’re going through bad things. You don’t have to participate in negative activities. There’s better things to do.”

His father, Linwood Bryant, said he’s seen remarkable changes in his son since enrolling him in the program.

“Since he’s been in this program, he’s been more adultlike,” said Mr. Bryant, 57. “He’s kind of growing up. He was hanging out with knuckleheads he had no business hanging with. He’s doing a lot better with an education. That’s the main thing.”

Mr. Gibbs said he thought area children could benefit from a residential treatment program that combines character rehabilitation, education, faith and life skills. The program started with only 24 boys. The first girls’ program was launched in 2003.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids at 14 or 15 realize they’ve made a lot of mistakes, fallen behind on education, or they’ve fallen through the cracks. And they want a chance to reinstate their lives and their education,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Gibbs pulled out of his pocket a crumpled photo of a smiling man and gently unfolded the picture. The mother of a former Youth For Tomorrow resident had given the coach the photo as a “thank you” for helping her son become a youth minister.

“She gave me this picture. Billy is now a youth pastor in South Dakota and has six kids and has an inner-city ministry,” Mr. Gibbs said. “That’s just one example of a person who has come out of here.”

WTTG Channel 5 anchor Gurvir Dhindsa served as honorary chairwoman for the fundraising event.

“We report enough bad stuff about what’s going on in the world and what young people are doing in terms of the negative things,” she said. “I think this is terrific.”

About 8,000 people turned out for the event Saturday - the largest crowd ever to attend - to bid on auction items such as autographed jerseys from local sports teams, watch live music and play carnival games.

“It keeps getting larger every year,” said Gary Jones, the program’s chief executive officer. “More people are learning about the great opportunities that we provide. This is the largest crowd we’ve ever had here.

“For most of our kids here, this is their first auction. We’re proud of them because they handle themselves so well in a situation they’ve never seen before.”

For Allison Scott, seeing so many people come out to support her 14-year-old daughter, Russia Ball, was overwhelming.

“The mere fact that all these people are here just shows you that somebody really cares,” said the 40-year-old D.C. resident and single mother. “This has had a big impact on me because I had nowhere to turn. She was a runaway. Just the fact that she’s not running on the streets of D.C. - I mean, the city is vicious. Here, she gets a nice shelter, food, great people to be around, people who are just like her. … I’m just very grateful.”

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