In 1966, The Post ran an article that reported that "50 percent of convicted felons in the District of Columbia had records as juvenile offenders. ... Today's juvenile delinquents," it concluded, "are tomorrow's adult criminals."

Clearly, I thought, the city's crime-prevention programs for juveniles were too little, too late. We needed to reach the children sooner.

With that in mind, in 1967 I started "Crime Stoppers," a nonprofit, educational corporation that for 23 years now has been trying to help children help themselves stay out of trouble.

The club began with a dozen 8- to 12-year-old boys one Saturday at the Eastern Branch Boys Club. Because I wanted them to feel a personal responsibility for the club I had in mind, I named it "Crime Stoppers." The club motto would be "stop crime by not commiting crime."

From Day 1, a dozen or so stalwarts took a lively interest. They helped with the wording of our pledge -- "We, the Crime Stoppers of D.C., pledge to obey all laws, respect police officers and all other citizens" -- and became articulate spokesmen for the club and its goals. At age 10, one of the original group, David White, now a D.C. firefighter, promoted the Crime Stoppers in 30-second spots on local radio and TV. After his appearances, children would call in to find out how they could become Crime Stoppers too.

The club soon had chapters in public housing projects, recreation centers, block clubs, supermarkets, wherever preteen boys gathered. Today, 5- to 14 year-olds in more than 40 of the District's elementary schools and one junior high have active clubs; girls -- "Crime Stopettes" -- have also joined the ranks.

Each Crime Stopper meeting follows the same pattern. After the president calls the session to order, the Crime Stoppers recite their pledge.

Then come their testimonies:

"I'm a Crime Stopper because I don't steal, and when I grow up I want to be ... "

"I want D.C. to be a safer place to live ... "

"I don't do drugs ... "

These brief testimonies encourage self-expression and self-esteem. The meetings also foster a sense of responsibility, because the children run the meetings with minimum supervision; they themselves introduce guests and field questions. In effect, they are role models for one another.

No meeting is complete without the Crime Stoppers cheer:

"Citizens respecting individuals more every day. Stand tall on public participation, eradicating rising statistics {on crime}. Put them all together and what do you have -- Crime Stoppers Club!"

Meetings close with the pledge and the club song, which emphasizes hope and determination.

Near the end of the school year, all the D.C. Crime Stoppers chapters assemble for Crime Stoppers Day. The children, who gather to tell their stories through speeches, songs and skits, are themselves the main event. An added attraction is CSC's debating team; in recent years 9- and 10-year-olds have debated topics such as "more jails or more crime-prevention programs" and school uniforms, yes or no.

Despite all the bad-news stories, I'm energized by the success stories of so many former Crime Stoppers. Many are now married, with "Crime Stoppers" of their own. I'm often stopped on the streets or in supermarkets by former club members who ask, "Do you remember me? I was in the Crime Stoppers Club" at this or that school.

At a workshop session at UDC last March, a teenager handed me a note, that read "Crime Stoppers helped change my life for the better. Thank you very much." That teenager, David Wilkerson -- Crime Stoppers grades 3-6, Kingsman Elementary School, Class of '86 -- was now in 10th grade at McKinley High School. He became the guest speaker at the Crime Stoppers' 23rd convocation, where he was roundly applauded by about 500 elementary school pupils.

If that doesn't make it all worthwhile, nothing will.

After 24 years, I still see my role as helping today's Crime Stoppers become tomorrow's law-abiding adults. To that end, I still speak at school assemblies. I tell the children, "We need your help. You can be 'example setters.' Think big while you're still small, and one day you'll be proud of the person you've become."

With the continued support of District schools, specifically, principals and staffers, I'll be busy starting new clubs this fall, signing up the newest crop of Crime Stoppers at the sound of the bell.

-- Margie R. Wilber is founder and executive director of the "Crime Stoppers" club in Washington.