BALTIMORE – After returning home from a juvenile facility, the last thing Rodney Stallworth, then 17, wanted to do was complete his community service requirement.
Now, two years later, he works to help other youth in the same situation.
Stallworth is a youth leader of the CORPS Program in Baltimore. The program helps young people who have come out of commitment in juvenile facilities gain skills they can use to pursue a career or more schooling.
Youth are required to complete at least three sessions of community service and are given a fund toward paying for education.
But CORPS is scheduled to be shut down June 30 because the program’s grant will expire.
“There’s nothing going to be equivalent that fills the gap,” said Laura Furr, senior director for the nonprofit Community Law in Action’s Youth Justice Initiatives, which handles the community service aspect of CORPS for the Department of Juvenile Services. “Our hope is to pursue funding to sustain the program beyond (June) 30th.
“In the event we don’t receive funding, we’re a nonprofit, so there’s not a well of funding to allow us to continue. The services will go away.”
Furr said her organization has submitted a grant to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to extend the community service program.
CORPS (Continuum of Opportunity Reentry Program & Services) serves youth who are returning from between two days of detention to one year of placement in a treatment facility. It also serves youth coming out of probation.
The nonprofit Community Law in Action has been involved with CORPS since April 2011.
Furr said she hopes DJS would want to continue a successful program, but she understands that the department has to handle its own budget.
Eric Solomon, a spokesman for DJS, said the department plans on incorporating what it has learned from CORPS into statewide reentry and re-development programs.
“As we're winding down the grant, we have transitional plans in place for each youth … if they are with us still under our supervision, they're still going to continue under our supervision, and if they're not, at that point we're going to refer them to needed services,” he said.
DJS seeks to put career centers in its facilities to help give youth job skills, certifications and apprenticeships, Solomon said.
“We feel that we can try to figure out the lessons we've learned and … try to move forward on a statewide model for our reentry plan,” he said. “We feel pretty good about this and we hope that we can definitely make a difference to more kids in our system by trying to implement it statewide.”
However, Stallworth said he doesn’t want the CORPS program to end because he thinks the youth in the program need more assistance to transition to the workforce or higher education.
“It’s basically like just shutting the water off while you (are) taking a shower,” he said. “We got to make sure they have plans and two months is not enough time to wrap up.”
The organization has given Stallworth a stable, home-like environment, which is part of the reason he chose to stay longer than the required three days. Youth who like the program can stay involved for as long as they want until the program ends.
Stallworth’s responsibilities include encouraging youth in the program and helping plan community service projects.
CORPS is designed to improve social skills, build self-esteem and teach youth how to advocate. Another CORPS goal is to get the youth enrolled in GED programs.
“If you’re around people who are professional, you start to portray that image,” Stallworth said.
Between the ages of 13 and 17, Stallworth moved around to different placement centers in Maryland, and was also placed in a foster home. He was first detained on controlled dangerous substance charges and then for gang violence, he said.
Despite his background, Stallworth earned his high school diploma. He graduated high school in 2012 from Knowledge & Success Academy in West Baltimore.
Stallworth plans to enroll at the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland and wants to become a radio personality.
La’Roy Alston, CORPS coordinator, said he’s watched a lot of youth like Stallworth go through positive changes during their time in the program.
“When I first got (Rodney Stallworth), he was a handful, but he changed dramatically,” Alston said. “I didn’t expect him to last long. I thought he was going to be here for the three (required) sessions. Now he’s here every day.”
Alston, 30, said he became involved in the program because he wants the youth to have better futures. He understands what they’re going through because he was in the criminal justice system as a juvenile.
“When I look at them, I see me in a lot of them," Alston said.
From feeding the homeless and planting hundreds of trees to sitting in a room licking envelopes, youth in the CORPS program, as well as other Community Law in Action programs, have contributed to thousands of Baltimore projects.
"The main accomplishments for CORPS are helping youth like Rodney (Stallworth) see themselves as positive forces in the community and not negative forces," Furr said. "We want the community to see the youth do something positive and we want the youth to see the community seeing them to do something positive. It's giving them a chance to give back to their community."