There’s nothing to do in Newport, several young people protested Tuesday night when business owners demanded a curfew and other measures to reclaim downtown streets they say have been taken over by juvenile delinquents.
“Why don’t you give us a place to go like a youth center or something - or maybe some jobs?” 18-year-old Wayne Feltwell asked.
The sheepish Feltwell had no answer when Kevin Paulus, owner of Newport One-Hour Photo, said he gave Feltwell a job.
“Where have you been?” Paulus demanded. “You didn’t even show up.”
But business leaders who insisted on tough measures to reclaim the streets acknowledged that many youths don’t have the opportunity Paulus said Feltwell ignored.
“The community needs to come together to show these kids that we care about them and that there’s a better way than what they’re doing,” Paulus said.
Grocery store owner Rod Owen urged the City Council to establish a Park and Recreation Department. He said a department is needed to provide stability for programs such as the city youth center that died last year when it was to have been turned over to a private organization.
He said he offered to match any funds raised for the center, but got no takers. Lack of organization contributed to the failure of that and several previous youth centers in Newport, Owen said.
Council members didn’t jump to provide a recreation department, but two private initiatives were announced before the often-heated meeting ended.
Land Title Co. owner Willy Hutchinson, who built a softball field for women at his farm, said he would provide a field and pay all expenses for a youth softball league. Hutchinson was the harshest critic of what several people said was the city government’s failure to clamp down on trouble-causing youths.
After calling for a curfew, Dave Reng, director of the Newport office of the Rural Resources social service agency, announced a plan to strengthen and expand a highly successful program to train high school students as firefighters.
“We’re trying to create some opportunity,” Reng said in an interview. “We’re in a county where, lets be frank, there is virtually no opportunity.”
Reng and core group of about 10 others met Wednesday night to organize a new non-profit organization called WORK, or Work Opportunity Resources Knowledge.
The group will take over the firefighter training program that was launched two years ago as part of the local Kiwanis Club’s Summer Getaway program for children. Summer Getaway organizer Imo Jones is one of the leaders of the new group.
“There are some well-documented cases of some pretty troubled young people who have turned their lives around after becoming volunteer firefighters,” Reng said. “We may not have had 100 percent success, but we have had 90 percent or so and I really believe it is because they are doing something they feel is important.”
By the summer of 1996, WORK leaders hope to expand the training program into areas besides firefighting and emergency medical work. Reng said the group hopes to offer programs for kids as young as 12 or 13 “because that’s when many kids start to form their workethic values.”
One possibility may be to put the youngsters to work helping elderly people, perhaps by doing yard work, he said.
“I’ll go to my grave believing that, in any age group, if you feel like you’re doing something important, you’ll do your best,” Reng said.
For Feltwell, such a job might be helping run a youth center. He said he wouldn’t donate his time for other projects, but would volunteer for a youth center.