With hot dogs and colorful balloons in hand, more than 200 youngsters from tots to teens gathered at Shiloh Baptist Church on Saturday for the second annual Children's Day celebration.
While the youngsters were entertained with such activities as puppet shows and poster-making, as many as 100 parents gathered for panel discussions on adolescent pregnancy, homeless families, juvenile justice, education and health care.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund of Washington, which sponsored the celebration, said the gathering reflected the Fund's change in emphasis from working on national issues affecting children to concentrating on local programs for youths.
"In many ways the District is light years behind in dealing with young people," said Edelman, who wore a bright green and white button that read "Invest in Children."
"We want to provide a community-based alternative for young people who have problems, and to reach the young that nobody's reaching."
Teen-age pregnancy will receive primary attention, Edelman said.
"Children having children will be our most serious long-range problem," she explained, citing the national figure of 50,000 black teenagers who drop out of high school annually because they are pregnant.
Among the parents attending the celebration at the church's Family Life Center was Carlton Johnson, of Mount Vernon, who came with his son Lonnie, 16, and daughter LaShanta, 8. Johnson, a single parent, went to the workshop on black men and parenting.
"Some good things came out of the discusssions, especially for single parents," he said after the session.
The kids sampled far less serious activities.
A basketball clinic led by Washington Bullets guard Frank Johnson drew the largest crowd.
"Move in on the inside leg, and aim for that square," Johnson told a group of 35 youngsters including three girls, lined up for instructions on how to shoot a lay-up.
Those who preferred drawing to dunking met with local artist Lou Stovall for a quick course in poster-making.
Karen Kirkley, l3, expressed the theme of this year's celebration--the needs of children--in a poster emblazoned with big purple letters proclaiming, "Children Need Everything but Drugs."
Joyce Walker, also 13, designed a poster to show that children's needs have changed over the years. Her electronic red, blue and yellow lettering, fashioned with magic markers, pointed out that in addition to family, education and love, "Children need Pac-Man."
The Kids on the Block puppeteers put on a show telling the youngsters how handicapped children cope with life.
Mandy, a deaf puppet, gave a lesson on sign language by teaching the audience to portray "milk" with hands in motion as if milking a cow. "Yes" is an extended fist shaken up and down at the wrist.
"How do you know when your phone is ringing?" inquired one 6-year-old in the audience. Explained Mandy: "A light in the room blinks on and off."
The day-long celebration culminated with a children's interfaith worship service in the church sanctuary at Ninth and P streets NW.