It was the end of summer last year and Charlene and Carole Ellis were lazing around their Bladensburg home with two friends, complaining about having nothing to do.
Their mother, also named Carole, was in earshot of their griping and came up with what seemed like a good idea to the four teen-agers.
"We had done about all there was to do in the summer and there is very little to do in Bladensburg," 14-year-old Charlene said. "My mother suggested we approach the Town Council and ask them to use the old police department building as a meeting place."
The result is a center operated by teen-agers for, at last count, 37 members, as well as a partnership between the young people and the town government. That, in turn, has led to a heightened civic consciousness for the teen-agers, they say--particularly concerning older residents in nearby neighborhoods.
The girls began by approaching the Town Council several times with an idea: They would take over the building as a teen center and in return would do things for the community, particularly its senior citizens.
"On weekend nights a lot of us would walk the streets. There are a lot of senior citizens in Bladensburg and many got worried when they saw us and did not know what we were doing," Charlene said. "We did not want to be a hassle; instead, we decided we wanted to help them."
Originally, the council was not enthusiastic, questioning how people so young could get anything serious done, council member Tim McNamara said.
"I backed off initially to see if they were really serious," he said. "But they were persistent and proved to me it was not a fad, so I started working with them."
That work led to the Teen-age Advisory Board of Bladensburg (TABB). The group has received some assistance from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and is applying for nonprofit status for fund-raising purposes.
The Ellis girls and two friends, Doris and Christie Scott, are the group's senior officers and hold two monthly meetings.
The members walk dogs for senior citizens, help them with their shopping and are trying to find ways to buy a bus for those who live at Emerson Home, a Bladensburg residence for the elderly. They also have held a Christmas party for the elderly.
The group now has the support of McNamara, who acts as an adviser, and the council.
"The teen center is a place to get off the streets," McNamara said. "That was the girls' major goal and still is."
McNamara said he is impressed with the group's determination and its willingness to take on projects small and large, such as the school bus. "It will take a total commitment for a project of that size," McNamara said. "We'll have to study how we can raise the money."
Doris said the group is especially pleased with its work with older people.
"When we gave them the party they were surprised--I mean really surprised," Doris said. "It was amazing how little we had to do to make them so happy."
"The youth in this town have never taken an active interest in the senior citizens before, so we think it's great that they are doing it now," said Ruth Bishop, resident manager of Emerson House. "The seniors are extremely appreciative of the attention."
Meanwhile, the group plans to renovate its headquarters.
"We want to really put something in there, make it a place where teen-agers will want to come to talk and listen to music as well as plan activities for themselves and the senior citizens," Doris said.
"We also want it to be useful, like posting a job board for teen-agers so people who need us for odd jobs can have a place to find us."