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Positive charge lights Metro Youth

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Greenwood

The Metropolitan Youth Group's award-winning drill team and drum corps performs at a recent Quad City Thunder home game at The Mark of the Quad Cities. This just one of many activities the group offers to young people from throughout the Quad-Cities.

ROCK ISLAND -- Driving down the lane, dodging the defense, is like life.

Sometimes you get blocked, move too fast and stumble, or brick a shot. Sometimes you nail it, and everything falls into place.

Amid two teams of 4-footers, Ken Martin stood smiling and pointing, trying to tell his basketball team of third- and fourth-grade boys and girls what to do and which way to run. The children bounced on unsure feet.

Those small feet are the reason Ken Martin co-founded Metropolitan Youth Program -- to help guide and give confidence to their owners. Ray Lomas Jr. and Russell Hall also were founding members.

The basketball league is just one of many programs offered by Metro as positive pastimes.

About 170 kids, ages 7 to 20, are involved in Metro Youth, said Mr. Martin, its president. ``They are nice kids, but when you get that many kids together in a controlled atmosphere, it talks about children's sense of belonging,'' he said.

Vicki Welcome, a Metro mom, thinks Metro is a great educational program, benefiting a lot of people. It helps the kids say no to drugs, but also sponsors and donates many activities, she said.

``They have fun, and the parents have fun,'' Ms. Welcome said. ``Sometimes our kids are gone all day. We'll see them late at night, when it's time for bed outfits. It's for a good cause.''

K.C. Martin has been involved with Metro ``forever,'' he said. He's pretty much right, considering Ken Martin is his father. K.C. is a sixth-grader at Hawthorne, where he plays basketball.

K.C. first played with Metro's basketball team for two years. He also plays the drums and soccer with Metro.

K.C. said he is fairly resolved to come back and run Metro when he is older. His father chuckled at that, but not because he didn't believe it. He just knows the group is an awful lot of work.

K.C. has a good start in assuming responsibility. He has been president of Metro's Junior Achievment group for three years.

The JA group is cited as the youngest in the organization's 40-year history, Mr. Martin said. Very small children are coming up with and carrying out money-raising campaigns.

Other Metro Youth activities include the precision drill team and drum corps, self-esteem development class, tutorial programs, computer class, photography and choir.

How did all of this come to be?

``At the time, we wanted to develop an alternative to negative things in the community, like drug abuse, gangs and teen pregnancy,'' Mr. Martin said.

He is not surprised by how large the group has become.

``We designed it way back then to have the different entities, and our vision was to have it that large, to fill the streets with kids that had something positive,'' he said.

Mr. Martin works full-time at the John Deere building in Milan as a supervisor, and then gives 30 or more hours a week to Metropolitan Youth to make the dream come true.

``It does (get tiring) until you see kids achieve something,'' he said. ``When you take them to a parade and they are awarded first place, that gives extra adrenaline.''

Mr. Martin said he will never give up.

``In my upbringing, I was blessed to have people in my community work with me,'' he said. ``For that experience, I am dedicated to pass it on. I strongly believe that a community grows and succeeds with the efforts of its citizens.''

Mr. Martin's goal is to produce great contributing citizens, and his efforts are already showing fruit in the number of graduating Metro Youth kids going to college, into the military, or coming back to Metro to volunteer.

The kids are duplicating themselves, Mr. Martin explained. They are positive role models, and other kids follow them. That is one reason a friend came up with the acronym for Metro: ``Mentoring Each to Reach Others.''

It all must be worth it for Mr. Martin to spend all the time he does each week, and with the enthusiasm he shows.

Mr. Martin has been president of Metro for nine of its 13 years. That makes him responsible for all the programs, for finding financing and making sure qualified people who care about children are the leaders, he said.

Mr. Martin also was voted Rock Island's Citizen of the Year in 1997.

``Basically, I am a very modest person,'' he said of his honor. ``It was very nice to have a community collectively say `Thank you'.''

In the future, Metro plans to put on a musical around Martin Luther King Day next year. With the choir, dancers, photography students and normally dramatic children, Mr. Martin said, he shouldn't have a hard time finding talent for the event.

Mr. Martin dreams of forming a partnership with one or more companies to place hard-working Metro Youth kids in jobs.

In the meantime, the third-and fourth-grade Metro members won their basketball game, strongly improving from previous practices.

Some of Metro's miniature ball players have real skills -- skills that will carry to their everyday lives, thanks to Ken Martin, Ray Lomas Jr. and Russell Hall.

-- By Kristen Foht (January 26, 1998)

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