When he missed the bus, Rozell Webb, a 15-year-old swimmer from Anacostia, walked 2 1/2 hours on a hot, summer evening to 16th and Q streets NW so he could attend the District's National Youth Sports Program. "I was tired, but it was my ambition to come here so I kept walking," he said.
Angela C. Thompson, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher, travels all the way from Memphis, Tenn., each summer to teach gymnastics for the youth program, a six-week sports camp also aimed at promoting a positive self-image among D.C. youths.
And Lisa Johnson, a four-year participant, says the program has helped keep her away from trouble.
Johnson and Webb are among 250 lucky students who got into the popular camp for low-income youths this year. There were 500 applicants.
While Johnson practices dance and Webb concentrates on swimming, other youths enjoy one of six additional sports offered at the camp -- basketball, softball, tennis, gymnastics, raquetball and karate -- as well as attending classes on career opportunities, drug abuse, nutrition and health.
Lucille Hester, director of the camp, said the program focuses on skills and attitudes that will last long after the summer is over. "Positive self-image makes kids feel good about themselves so they can know that they can do things," she said.
Lisa Johnson, for example, said the program has helped her make a career decision. She wants to be a computer programmer or professional dancer. "It's a place to come and learn instead of being out on the streets and using durgs and getting in trouble," she said. "I love it, and I will be back."
The camp operates out of the University of the District of Columbia's Physical Education Building. The program runs Monday through Thursday from 5-9 p.m. To qualify for the program, most youths must be from low-income families.
"Ninety percent of the kids must be disadvantaged, classified by target areas," such as Anacostia or Shaw, Hester said. "A lot of times Anacostia is left out of things because they (youths) are classified as bad, classified as the kids across the river."
The other 10 percent of the youths can come from any income level.
The 4-year-old UDC program has 60 applicants on a waiting list in case a participant drops out.
That rarely happens. "Our turn-over is about 5 percent," Hester said. "When the new facility opens (at Connecticut and Van Ness), then we can take more kids. It's really hard to tell kids they can't come, but we don't have space."
A big part of the program's success is the staff, according to Hester. Teachers include college students, public school staff members, parents of youngsters in the program, former participants, and even persons outside the metropolitan area.
"The staff here makes it beautiful," Hester said. "They are a group of people dedicated to doing something for kids. They've come back each year."
Angela Thompson, who has taught gymnastics at the camp for the last four years, says it's worth the trip from Tennessee, even though there are similar programs in her state. "This is my break (in the summer) to come back and teach older children," she explained. "This program at UDC is the best. The children are great; they have a lot of fun in this program. It's like one big happy family. We have a lot of kids who have come back (in gymnastics class)."
The program is federally funded through the Community Services Administration and administered by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The nationwide program is 12 years old.
Of the $6 million appropriated by Congress for the program, UDC received about $39,000, said Nolan Lewis, a community action specialist for the CSA.
There is also a winter program from September to May, Hester said, which offers cultural trips for youths from age 10 to 18. Participants have gone to Broadway in New York City, attended a Washington Bullets game and visited the Redskins' training camp in Carlisle, Pa.
Hester said the cultural trips are an important plus for the youths. "I set them up to try to expose them so that they can seek other goals other than being complacent where they are. . . . Because they are disadvantaged children in target areas does not mean they have to be there all their lives. . . . So that they can see other places, enrich their lives in some other cultural activity, I make sure each child goes on at least one culture trip."
Hester said she tries to provide incentives for the young people to want to do better. "I told all of the kids who were in the program last year to bring their report cards and if they made the honor roll for four advisories, they will get a sweat suit as a reward or incentive.
"Maybe someone who didn't make the honor roll this year will say, 'If NYSP is held next year, I can make the honor roll and get a sweat suit.' If you put something in it, you will get something out of it.
"Some will forget to turn in their report cards to me and will not receive a sweat suit," she said. "We try to teach responsibility, and it's up to them to keep up with all my announcements."