Amid the bleak landscape of the crime-scarred Montana Terrace public housing complex in Northeast, the children are making big plans.
Lakeesha Scott, 11, hopes there will be a big dance show. Deon Spanner, 12, wants to take karate lessons. And her friend Arvette Reese, 11, knows she'll be able to find help on her homework.
The source of all the excitement is a new Boys & Girls Club, the first ever to open in a D.C. public housing complex.
Opened and operated by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington near what is one of the worst drug markets in the city, the club will be headquartered in an abandoned activities room at the complex that once housed a city-run recreation center. It will offer arts and crafts, games, homework assistance and other supervised programs for the approximately 400 children who live in the complex.
It also will refer the project's older youths to obstetrics training, teen parent classes and career development programs.
"This is one of the hottest drug spots in the District," said D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5), who attended the club's opening ceremonies last week. "I'm proud to see finally that someone is taking an interest in it. This recreation center has been sitting here with nothing in it for the past 10 years."
For the young residents of Montana Terrace, the club represents a haven, safe from the open-air drug trade and nightly violence that surround them. For the Boys & Girls Club, the facility is an opportunity to help improve the lives of the children and families who live there by bringing educational, social and motivational programs to the city children who perhaps need them the most.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington runs a similar club in a public housing complex in Annapolis, where the changes have been dramatic, according to Archie Avedisian, the organization's executive vice president.
"In the complex, crime drops down and kids get more involved with what's going on," he said.
But implementing the idea in the District was anything but simple.
Avedisian said he worked on the idea for four years, "going through the political maze," with little success.
Enlisting the support of the District's Department of Public and Assisted Housing was crucial to opening the club. The Boys & Girls Club needed the department's assistance to find and renovate a facility.
"Everyone said they were interested but nothing ever happened," Avedisian said.
He credits Roland L. Turpin, who became director of the department less than a year ago, with moving the process along. Turpin told the Boys & Girls Club about the vacant recreation room at Montana Terrace and organized meetings with residents to win their support for the club.
Turpin, who would not speculate on why the club was frustrated in its efforts to find a space before he came on the job, said he expects similar clubs, operated by different organizations, to open soon in two or three of the city's other 64 housing projects. "The momentum is there," he said.
The club will open next Tuesday with four full-time and four part-time trained staff members.
So far the club has received $52,000 from United Way and a $25,000 matching grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, among other donations. It is now trying to raise money for computers, educational materials, games and other supplies.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, which turned 105 this year, has 20 branches in the city.