Club Is Part Of Anti-Gang Strategy

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 6, 2005

Herndon Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers Jr. stood in front of about 30 students at the town's Hutchison Elementary School on Monday morning and asked for a show of hands. "Does anyone know someone who's involved in a gang?"

About a half-dozen hands inched up. "Not too many," he said. "That's good." Summers, who also heads the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, was afraid that at least half the kids in the room would raise their hands.

Gang-related crime has crept into every corner of this once rural town. A 17-year-old Herndon youth was shot to death last year by a gang member on a bicycle. Teenagers have been involved in countless gang crimes as the epidemic has spread across Northern Virginia.

So Summers was pleased to be present for a kick-off event for a new Boys & Girls Club extension that began operating Tuesday at Hutchison Elementary. The club will initially provide an after-school outlet for 30 children in grades four to six from 3 to 6:15 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The club hopes to have a five-day schedule soon.

Hutchison's is the second Boys & Girls Club in Fairfax; the other is in the Culmore area near Baileys Crossroads. With $1 million in funding plus $2 million in advertising and other support from cable provider Cox Communications, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington plans to open four more clubs in Fairfax County by the end of next year.

The clubs focus first on school, helping kids keep pace with their classes and homework.

They also provide opportunities to play sports and music, learn about nutrition and art, and understand how to resist pressure to join gangs or take drugs, said Wonhee Kang, who is overseeing the Culmore and Hutchison programs.

Herndon Mayor Michael L. O'Reilly said that 95 percent of the children who participated in the Culmore club had improved their grades over the previous year.

"The town believes this will decrease the likelihood of kids joining gangs and provide a place for children to go after school," O'Reilly said.

Hutchison Principal Sheila Kearney said her school already had a number of outreach programs in which community members try to steer students in a safe direction. She said Fairfax County police officers regularly sit down for lunch with small groups of children to build trust and show them they can talk with police.

"Rarely are our children directly involved in gangs," Kearney said, "but it's in their environment." She said school leaders had specifically selected 30 students who are not necessarily poor but are "children we know could use support."

Almost half of Hutchison's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a statistic often used to gauge the wealth of an area. About a third of the school's children are Hispanic, Kearney said, and students from 60 countries have attended Hutchison in recent years.

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