Reginald "Kiyi" Ballard has devoted 35 years to working with D.C. youth as a recreation specialist and volunteer for the Department of Recreation. Ballard has worked at centers in Northwest, Southeast and Northwest -- not only shaping and molding strong bodies and minds, but nurturing positive self-images; he has served as a tutor, coach and friend for troubled teen-agers and a father for many fatherless children.
Now, along with hundreds of parents, children and other recreation staff around the city, Ballard fears that the recent and upcoming reduction in force (RIF) layoffs, brought on by city government budget woes, will render null and void the years of dedication and long hours of unpaid overtime that have gone into developing the department.
"The recreation department has always worked hard to provide the community with center directors and field workers who can teach by example. That's their job," says Ballard, 58, a D.C. native. "Kids have a lot of free time after school. They need things to do, people to give them attention and advice . . . people to constantly encourage them and teach them how to fulfill their potential and to know right from wrong."
Parents and those who appreciate their work are angry. To dramatize their outrage, some have drawn up a petition currently circulating through the public schools, and others have planned protest marches they hope will persuade Congress, City Council and the mayor to stave off the recreation RIF.
What hurts the most, Ballard points out, is that many of the talented, college-trained recreation specialists most recently hired will be the first to go.
"That's one of the evils of the RIF process," admits Dr. William Rumsey, director of the recreation department. "We lose some of our best workers, while those who we'd like to get rid of don't get touched."
It's the job of the D.C. Office of Personnel to determine who gets laid off. Rumsey and his staff do not pick and choose specific individuals to lay off. They can only tell the personnel office where the most fat is in the already lean department that has lost about 20 percent of its work force in the last two fiscal years.
Rumsey says recreation specialists and maintenance emloyes are the positions the department can most spare. Specialists comprise about 70 percent of the department, maintnence personnel about 24 percent and administrative personnel represent only 6 percent. By the March 31 RIF deadline, at lease 65 recreation specialists and 29 maintenance employees are scheduled to be laid off.
After personnel was told where to make the cuts, it began to calculate who would be laid off by using three criteria: longevity, veteran's preference and supervisor's appraisal.
After the RIF operation is completed, a finely-tuned life support system will be installed for the recreation department, Rumsey says. He will construct the system by reassigning those employes who survive the RIF, then hiring part-time workers and recruiting volunteers to lend a hand in patching up the holes left by the RIF scalpel.
Rumsey promises the department can withstand the inevidtable RIF and still maintain its current level of performance, but will need the help of many, many volunteers. "If our old volunteers stay abroad and new ones come forward," he says, "no recreation center will be closed down and all current activities will be kept alive."
Mary Payne, director of Shaw Recreation Center, and several other recreation deparment employees, disagree with Ramsey. They say the department will not be able to carry on business as usual after March 31.
The RIF is going to cripple us tremendously," she said. "Part-time people and volunteers cannot replace professionals." Payne, who has been with the department for about 15 years, is certain she will receive a RIF notice shortly.
In her element, Payne has the stage presence of a caring but firm parent who plays a leading role in the continuing saga of life in the ailing Shaw community.
But, she says, her effectiveness already has been eroded by the loss of two workers in March 1979, reducing the Shaw staff to three including herself. Some services at the center already have been either curtailed or canceled due to the lack of personnel to suppervise them. Payne adds, "There are so many dangers the RIF is subjecting us to; the clientele we deal with is very precarious."
An incident last week illustrated her point. Payne arrived at the center after attending a meeting with parents who were concerned about her pending layoff. She found seven teen-age boys, crowded around a pool table, threatening to turn a peaceful recreation room atmosphere into a street-corner ruckus. Arguing back and forth about who was the best pool shooter in the group, two of the boys got fed up with cheap talk and began cursing and daring each other to put down the pool sticks and put up fists.
Just as the two boys got nose to nose in a cold stare, Payne entered the room, suddenly breaking the tension. With a few well-chosen words and a firm promise to put the "gentlemen" out of the center if they continued to cause trouble, Payne drove a sharp wedge between the two boys. The boys silently turned from each other, picked up their pool sticks and finished the game.
Payne wonders what will happen when no one is there to separate the boys. "Small problems can quickly become crises when you don't have enough people to stay on top of the situation -- to nip the problem in the bud."
Several miles away, in a world far different from that of the inner-city Shaw area, Lafayette Recreation Center sits west of the park in a largely white, largely middle-class community near Chevy Chase. In his seven years at Lafayette, center director John Holmes has become a popular figure, adroitly channeling the abundant energy and volatile curiosity of youths into recreational activities.
Holmes, 31, a D.C. native, says, "It doesn't matter what part of the city (recreation specialists) are in -- rich, poor, black or white -- we all deal with the same basic problems." Holmes, who has earned bachelors and masters degrees in physical education and recreation, received one of 23 RIF notices mailed about two weeks ago. His last day is tomorrow. He plans to look for another job, but also will volunteer at Lafayette, where he has earned a reputation as a sensitive community leader who easily wins the respect and trust of youths.
Kiyi Ballard shakes his head in disgust when he thinks of what the RIF will do to public recreational services in D.C. "The way things are going now, we're going to be pushed 30 years behind," he says. "When a community loses recreation specialists like Payne or Holmes, it can be devastating, like losing a main artery of the heart."