Channel One--a way for business to help

Does learning how to restore gravestones have anything to do with combating drug use? Does it have anything to do with getting business involved in a community?

Try looking at Durango, Colo., where teen-agers have built a roller-skating rink, after tradesmen taught them how. Look at Hampton, N.H., where 40 kids developed an extensive network of cross-country ski trails after earning money through car washes and bake sales. Look at Decatur, Ill., where 15 kids with help from the local Kiwanis Club are restoring and running a farm. Look at Rochester, Minn., where hundreds of youths and senior citizens now operate an elder education program and a senior food cooperative. And take a look at Hardy, Ark., where 34 high school students are in the middle of building a volunteer fire house.

All those projects, implemented without federal money, are a big success--the towns feel revitalized. Vandalism, juvenile delinquency, and drug abuse usually go down. Kids earn school credit in many instances. Everyone benefits.

Behind every one of these projects, and hundreds of others like them, is a common denominator enigmatically titled, ''Channel One.''

Channel One is a drug-abuse prevention program that makes a point of never mentioning ''drug abuse.'' What it does make a point of mentioning is ''community revitalization,'' ''youth participation,'' and ''business commitment.''

To find the real story behind Channel One, one needs to journey to Gloucester , Mass. and, more specifically, one needs to hunt out Gloucester resident Alfred Duca.

A huge bear of a man, with salt and pepper hair as curly as a sea captain's, Al, as he likes to be called, is part philosopher, part artist, part inventor. But mostly he hates to see kids go to waste. He also dislikes describing kids as ''problems.'' ''Kids can't be expected to change under that kind of label, no matter how well intentioned,'' he says, gazing out his window at a neighbor's wood smoke crawling into the chill March air. ''No, you need to foster alternatives and options. And self-interest is the best way of opening up self-discovery.''

As an artist who builds huge iron and plexiglass sculptures, Al may have been particularly suited to entice those kids ''just waiting for trouble'' off the streets and into his studio to ''just help out a little.''

Al performed his experiment twice during the late '60s. Once in a Boston ghetto and once in Gloucester, both times just to make sculpture, and both times just to give kids ''the chance to learn a skill and some self-respect.'' By the early '70s Al was ready to branch out. Known as the Gloucester Experiment, this time it involved 70 kids and the restoration of an 18th-century burial ground on a tiny Gloucester hill overlooking the white-capped Atlantic.

By the time the project was finished several months later, the kids had learned how to survey, do stone masonry and landscaping, write legislation, and, most important, seek out and draw upon individuals and local businesses whose expertise and tools they needed. In the meantime, the local high school and some community colleges had decided to offer credit for much of the students' work.

By all accounts it was a solid success for economically depressed Gloucester. There was a ''mood of recovery'' in the salt air that had gotten not only to the kids, but also to local businesses and town officials. And the kids, heady with success, went on to build a community center nearby.

About that time, grant offers, including one from the National Institute for Drug Abuse started to roll in to explore the program's potential in other communities. News of the program's success had already spread. And it was largely the multi-faceted nature of that success that attracted the Prudential Insurance Company in 1977 to conduct a pilot program in the Northeast.

After that, events happened quickly. By 1981 a manual had been written describing in seven steps how one person--a parent, a teacher, a businessman or woman--could, without government assistance, turn concern for a community into useful projects, integrating local business, media, and, most important, kids.

That guide is currently available from the Channel One Clearinghouse in Gloucester. There are more than 100 Channel One projects now going on providing untold numbers of kids with drug-free alternatives.

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