The Salvation Army Boys Club in Winston-Salem is one of three clubs in the nation that received a $25,000 grant from the Boys Clubs of America and the U.S. Juvenile Justice Council.
Paul Pericozzi, who directs the local Boys Club program, said the grant is used for a very different purpose in Winston-Salem than it is in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the other cities chosen.In those cities, which have well-established gangs, workers go into detention centers to work with boys who already have been in trouble, Pericozzi said.
In Winston-Salem, the program is aimed at keeping certain young boys from getting into serious trouble by giving them something else to do. If it is successful, other small cities could use Winston-Salem's program as a model, Pericozzi said.
``There's a chance that Winston-Salem could have this problem if we don't step in,' he said. ``Kids are selling drugs. We all know that. We want to intercept them and get them interested in our programs.'
The program targets boys ages 12 to 16 who have gotten into trouble and, because of their environment, could be headed for more. They are what Pericozzi calls ``on the edge.' But the boys themselves don't know they are part of any special program, and they are not singled out for special attention.
``We don't want to label them as that, even though they've been labeled somewhere along the line,' he said. ``We don't want to add another label.'
Nor will the program try to single-handedly rid certain areas of drugs, Pericozzi said.
``We're not trying to bust in there. We'll get killed,' he said. ``That's not the point. The point is to keep kids out of this. We're not going after the hard-core, Uzi-slinging drug dealers.
``We're just trying to give kids some positive alternatives. We want to get them involved in our mainstream activities and gain interest in the club.'
James Blackburn works with the boys at one Winston-Salem Boys Club office. He said he tries to do positive things to improve their self-esteem.
``We mainly just try to turn them around,' he said. ``They're missing a black role model, someone positive they can identify with.'
Blackburn, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who has served time in prison, said he can talk to the boys about what they are facing.
``I've been there,' he said. ``I've been on both sides of the fence. I share with them both sides and tell them what it's all about.'