Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) announced today that his office has helped recruit 2,120 adult mentors for young people prone to gang-related violence, surpassing his goal of 2,000 role models in place by the new year.

Earley, spurred initially by the fatal 1998 shooting of a teenage boy outside Marshall High School in Fairfax County, said college students, professionals and community activists had rallied to his call for volunteers to help at-risk youths avoid violent crime and Virginia's penal system.

"Whether it's coaching or tutoring or somebody to talk to, I think just the fact that somebody is there with no agenda other than the fact that they care about a child does an awful lot in terms of prevention," Earley told reporters at a news conference here.

Earley, 45, the father of six, said his mentor program had been "precipitated" by the death of Marshall student David Albrecht, 17, who was shot in the head by a gang member while sitting in his car in the high school parking lot.

Since then, Earley has toured the state promoting his cause. The effort coincides with the formative stages of his campaign for the GOP nomination for governor in 2001. Earley represented Chesapeake in the state Senate for 10 years.

Earley said his office has acted largely as mentor middleman, "recruiting and handing off" volunteers to appropriate local agencies such as the United Way and civic clubs throughout the state.

Most of the young people in the program hail from predominantly black Richmond, and just over 300 mentors volunteered from Norfolk State and Virginia State universities, the state-supported, historically African American institutions. An Earley spokesman said about 100 mentors were recruited from Northern Virginia, adding that the Washington suburbs will be a focus of the effort next year.

Earley said his face-to-face meetings with 47 youthful offenders in jail for violent crimes such as murder and rape showed that all but one of them were growing up in single-parent families, usually without a father figure in their lives. Mentoring, he said, even monthly "lunch buddy" visits by nearby professionals and other volunteers, could be meaningful interventions that would help kids stay out of trouble, Earley said.

The attorney general's initiative has drawn approving notices from youth services workers throughout the state, many of whom work on shoestring budgets and are grateful for attention from the conservative Republican.

"By putting the emphasis on mentoring, he's putting the focus on small government agencies like ours," said Mark V. Crowley, who for five years has been director of the Loudoun County Court Service Unit in Leesburg.

"It gives us support, credibility--permission, if you will--for our programs," Crowley said.

Crowley said his growing county is pursuing different forms of mentoring aggressively. An informal umbrella group called GRACE--for "Go, Reach, Assist, Challenge and Empower"--has just trained 12 tutors for the local detention center, which has a capacity of 24 detainees.

"Mentoring is one of the most powerful life-changers in the youth community today," Crowley said.