"Want to play a game?" Prince George's police officer Natasha Shannon asked 15-year-old Ebony Morris.
"Okay," Ebony said, scooting to her right to let Shannon play Tetris with her at the computer center run by the nonprofit Agape Restoration Ministries in the Riverview Terrace apartment complex in Oxon Hill.
Down the street from the computer center at the Park Forest complex, dozens of children were bobbing in the clear blue pool water trying to keep cool on a sweltering 95-degree day.
At each place, several children called out to "Miss Kathy."
That's how they know Kathy Dougherty, vice president of Edgewood Management Community Services of Seat Pleasant. For more than 17 years, Dougherty, with the blessings and backing of her management company, has come up with and supervised programs to occupy the time and minds of residents in the 15 community service programs it manages.
But it's the programs for the kids that brought me out to Riverview Terrace last week--and very quickly caught my attention and heart.
Police officers from the county's community policing program, who drop in on the programs at many Edgewood-managed properties in Prince George's, wish more businesses would follow the Edgewood example. One of Edgewood's principal owners, Eugene Ford, encourages the development of community service programs at the properties the community manages or owns.
In addition to helping provide the space for the computer center, the apartment complex owners and Edgewood have either entirely paid for or contributed money or space to help establish a summer day-camp program, a teenager mentoring program for boys, after-school study centers, sports programs and spelling bees. The management company also has helped coordinate or sponsor field trips for residents, mostly the scores of children who otherwise would have little to do.
At Riverview Terrace, Park Forest and Colonial Village, all in Oxon Hill and managed by Edgewood, the different owners put up money to help support the summer day camp. Parents only had to pay the bargain price of $30 for six weeks for their children to participate in the program.
"The kinds of things they provide you don't even see in top-dollar apartment complexes," Shannon said. "This should be the model for a lot of apartment complexes."
Shannon said although a lot of apartment complexes in the county have recreation centers or perhaps basketball courts, the owners or management companies haven't gone to the lengths that Edgewood has.
For example, Riverview owners and Edgewood are allowing Agape to have three prime apartments worth together about $2,000 a month. One of the two-bedroom apartments is used for Agape's computer center. It's where Shannon was playing Tetris with Ebony. It's a place where dozens of youths find solace from the summer sun.
Because Agape doesn't pay a dime in rent, the nonprofit has been able to expand its programs. They've been able to conduct anger management workshops and classes on money management and provide free lunches and snacks to the children who come to the computer center, according to the Rev. Salim Edwards, executive director of Agape.
"The Lord has just blessed us with Edgewood Management and Kathy Dougherty," said the Rev. Evelyn Horn, founder of the Agape program.
Edwards said that over the four years they've run programs at Riverview Terrace, he has seen a remarkable difference. Crime has fallen. Walls that once were covered with graffiti aren't anymore. Many of the teenagers now avoid hanging out with suspected drug dealers in favor of sitting with county officers and playing Dr. Brain computer games or going on field trips.
"The majority of the kids when we got here weren't on the honor roll. Many are now," Edwards said.
Contrary to stereotypes, the black kids in the complex would rather be playing than passing drugs, Edwards said. They just need something to do, someone to provide them with alternatives to hanging on the street.
"It's fun here," Ebony said. "If I weren't here, I would just be in the house doing nothin'."
Dougherty modestly says the complex owners and Edgewood, which manages 13 apartment complexes in the county, haven't done it alone. They work with community groups such as Agape, parents, the county's community policing program and other government agencies to provide a laundry list of programs and activities.
But let's get real. The businesses recognize their altruism also makes good business sense.
"This is a win-win situation for everybody," Dougherty said. "The residents feel more comfortable. In turn, they take better care of their places. We know they are appreciating what we are offering, so we offer more and more. People have started to believe that working together, we can make a difference."
What is happening over in Oxon Hill is a good example of what makes this county a nice place to live for many of us. All the people involved--Edgewood, the apartments' owners, the police, Agape and the residents--deserve kudos.
Talkin' Money appears every other Wednesday in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or e-mail. You can write to me in c/o Talkin' Money, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd. Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. My e-mail address is email@example.com.