Most church youth groups hold field trips, bake sales and have a basketball team. The youth group coordinator at Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW supervises field trips, bake sales and a basketball team. She also works constantly to steer the 30 inner-city teens away from drugs, pregnancy and dropping out of high school.
"Kids in Washington have really missed a lot," said coordinator, Janice Davis, 28, "Because of their environment, they often miss the childhood part of life. That transition period between 11 and 13 [years of age] is shortened because of the responsibilities placed on them and they don't have a chance to stretch out adolescence. So what you have is a lot of little 'adults' running around."
"Sometimes it's because they have a lot of brothers and sisters to care for," Davis said."Sometimes it's not having adult guidance around and consequently that forces the child to miss some important parts of his development or to be influenced by negative things."
Sunday, for the second time, the youth group led the 11 a.m. service and sponsored the coffee hour that followed. The teen-agers led the prayers, read the Scripture and helped make arrangements for Mayor Marion Barry to deliver the sermon.Another youth, Johanna Skrine, read an Aesop fable to the 30 children gathered around her at the altar. This was the children's sermon.
Barry talked to the youngsters and their parents about summer jobs, political office, and told them to "think big" in their career plans.
"Right now there's a gap in our church," said Davis. "There are a lot of older people and a lot of young people but not many in between."
Davis said church youth need to be motivated to participate in church activities, if that trend is not to be repeated.
"At our meetings, we talk about what we can do to get more youth to come to church," said Gloria Jeeter, secretary of the youth group. "We can also get advice about jobs. We can call Janice anytime. She is very helpful about problems we have with grades, peers and our future plans."
"When you have a problem, she tries to keep you motivated, she tells you to go to college and make something of yourself," said Jeeter, 18. "I think it's keeping us from getting out in the streets. It keeps us doing things constructive."
Davis says that through their weekly meetings, field trips and other church activities she keeps the group motivated. "We get into things that will keep them active. I try to teach them to develop leadership skills, decision-making skills and just things that can help you develop overall responsibility."
In February they sponsored a career day for the church and neighborhood youth. Representatives from Howard Medical School, NASA, National Association of Architects, McDonald's, the United Methodist Church administration and other groups talked to the students about their futures. Several of the students were hired by the representatives.
According to Davis, most of the problems the teens confront her with are typical "growing up" problems. But, she says, the problems which worry her the most are drugs and pregnancy.
"These kids don't need to be getting pregnant, they don't need to be on dope. They have so many resources here. They can walk to Congress and talk to a congressman," Davis said. "They can just get on the subway to go to an art gallery or almost any place! It's not wrong if they don't go, but it is wrong if there are responsibile people around who don't guide them."
Johnnie Newman, 15, said he can talk to members of the group or the Rev. Hal Henderson, church pastor, when he has a problem. "But if my friend or I had a drug problem I would go to the group. You couldn't tell a counselor at school if you had a drug problem, because you'd get suspended," said Newman.
?My grades are better since I became active in the group.I used to have kind of low grades but I talked to some friends at church and they told me I had to study more and my grades got better. They told me that's where it's really at hitting the books, man."
When the girls bring up pregnancy, Davis says she handles it by educating them on the economics of a baby. "I tell them the costs of a baby now and the cost of one later. I ask them how will feel when they want to go boogie or go buy designer jeans and can't do it," said Davis. "I tell them to get it together academically first. Some of them think having a baby is a cute thing. I tell them it's not a cute thing."
Davis, a tall slender woman, volunteered to be the youth coordinator last summer after the death of their former coordinator, Berry Bullock.
Because her mother was a school teacher, Davis says, she became interested in education and youth at an early age. "I got a lot of encouragement from my parents and relatives when I was growing up," Davis said. "I was able to accomplish a lot in high school and college. But I owe it to their encouragement.
"That's why I'm trying to motivate these kids," said Davis. "If I'm able to keep three or four more out of trouble or motivate them to go on to college, I'll feel successful." CAPTION: Picture, Johanna Skrine, with mike, reads children's sermon on youth day at Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church.By Larry Morris-The Washington Post