BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
On a November night 17 years ago, Alvin Chaplin pored over a list of troubled youths. He chose a handful of teenage boys to live in a new group home in Stafford County.
The home would be named for Chaplin, who dedicated the last two decades of his life to the teens he called “throwaway kids,” those headed for juvenile detention centers.
And choosing that first batch of teens was Chaplin’s last act. He died the next morning.
On Monday, 17 years to the day after he selected the first residents of the Chaplin Youth Center, organizers celebrated the group home’s expansion–the Chaplin Youth Center West.
Chaplin would have loved the new home on William Street in Fredericksburg, his widow, Joady Chaplin, said at the gathering on Monday night.
With taupe walls and white wooden furniture, the house feels like a home. It provides a place for teen boys leaving the youth center’s southern Stafford County quarters and transitioning back to their families.
The new home will allow the youth center to serve six more teens, said director Kristin Van Tine. For the past year, the center often has had a waiting list.
Teens come to Chaplin when they have trouble with their families or with the law. They don’t yet need foster care or detention but could end up in either situation without intervention.
Over the course of the last year, more than 50 teens stayed at Chaplin, where they received structure, guidance and counseling.
The agency lost about $60,000 in grants and donations, Van Tine said. She was looking at cutting staff and programs. Around the country, she saw similar programs shut down.
And then local philanthropist Doris Buffett offered Van Tine a new home, with operating expenses covered for the first year.
The house operated by New Vision served as a transitional home for women just out of jail. When that nonprofit group folded last year, the home went back to Buffett.
“In the end, I thought this might be a fit,” Buffett said. “I have high hopes for this place, because it’s not an institution; it’s a home, with two fireplaces. And if we can show these kids what it’s like to live in harmony, I can’t see anything wrong with that.”
The three boys now living in the home agree with Buffett’s assessment.
“I would call this my second home,” said Dakota Walls.
The 17-year-old came to Chaplin about five months ago after getting in trouble with the law. This week, Dakota moved to the new home.
While the youth center serves both girls and boys, the new transitional home will take only boys.
For Tevin Washington, the home provides a chance to receive the help of Chaplin staff while preparing to return home to his family.
When the 17-year-old came to the Chaplin Youth Center in April, he was barely passing school. The junior at James Monroe High School was often tardy or absent, because he didn’t feel like showing up for class.
But he said that within months, he was on the honor roll. His grades improved so much that Tevin could play on the varsity basketball team, something he always wanted to do.
In early October, Tevin was doing so well that Chaplin staff transitioned him to the new home.
He and the two other teens share chores, do their homework, play video games and plan their futures under 24-hour supervision. They cook their own meals and do their own laundry.
“I’ve learned a lot about tolerance, getting along and stepping up,” said Antwaun Carey, the first teen to move into the new home. “I feel blessed, lucky to be at Chaplin.”
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973
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