THE QUARTERS of Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club No. 13 could be the setting for one of those bleak, slice-of-life movies about poor inner-city youths - except that it's all too real: wedged into the basement of a housing project in one of Washington's poorest neighborhoods; lacking proper equipment or furniture; often infested with roaches; surrounded by the visible evidence of severe urban blight. No. 13, all agree, has the worst facilities of the 10 boys and girls clubs operated and manned by the D.C. Police Department.The casual observer might easily conclude that such a place could make little difference in the lives of neighborhood youths. But, as staff writer Ron Shaffer found, that is not the case. Despite its ramshackle appearance, clubhouse No. 13 has made and is making a difference in the lives of many Le Droit Park neighborhood youths, thanks to the diligent efforts of its four-member staff.
Officer Jerry Swanson, the No. 13 leader who wears a ping-pong paddle alongside his revolver while at the club, estimates that half the boys within a five-block redius stop in at least twice a week to watch TV, play pool and table tennis and participate in sports programs. Officer Swanson says the club has 1,400 members. Given the club's appearance, the figure is poignant evidence of the desperate circumstances of these youths and of their yearning for a better life. For many it is their only recreational outlet.
Clubhouse No. 13 and the other nine clubs around the city are a haven for many poor youths. The clubs, begun 43 years ago, offer these youths the chance to meet the police in a positive setting and to come to view them as friends. The volunteers who help staff the clubs and the businesses that help support them offer these youths tangible evidence that their community cares about them. But all except one of the clubs are in terrible physical condition and otherwise inadequate. So last spring the police department began a $5 million fund-raising drive to build eight new clubs. That drive, which received nearly $2 million before it was suspended for the six-month United Way campaign, has now been revived. We hope that means that soon, with construction funds in hand, the police department will be able to improve the vitally important service it offers the city's youngsters.