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Citrus Springs tackles rash of youth trouble // FINDING A SOLUTION

Kristin Stewart needs to pause while running down the checklist of things neighborhood kids can do: she can't squeeze it all in one breath.

Care before and after school at North Oak Baptist Church. College and career classes on Sundays. Rap sessions for teenagers once a week. Awana, a Christian version of Girl and Boy Scouts.

Movies on the Green once a month at Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church with free hot dogs and drinks. Roller skating parties. Picnics. Car washes. Study groups. Youth nights at churchs all over the neighborhood.

Plus, football fields and basketball courts at the middle school. And a gymnasium at Church of God perfect for street hockey.

"It starts with discipline in the home," said Stewart, one of the youth leaders at North Oak Baptist Church. "We've got to get the kids in the community before they start doing the graffiti. I raised kids for eight years by myself. I know how hard it is."

Like other community leaders, Stewart knows she preaches to the converted. The students who attend events at schools and churches in Citrus Springs are not the ones who typically cause trouble.

"As a community, if we learn who we are, we can better address these problems," said Patrick McQuire, the pastor at Hope. "Until we get to know our youth, all of them are thugs."

Public talk about boredom began early this month when Citrus Springs residents began meeting to discuss a wave of vandalism pounding the community. Time and time again, the debate centered on teenagers, who are blamed for increased criminal mischief.

For parents and retirees in the community, the problem is that they simply can't do what some of the troublemaking teenagers want. They simply don't have enough money in their pockets to open an arcade or a pool hall.

They've set up activities and are trying to provide what teenagers need: a precarious balance of supervision that lets adolescents still be kids.

But the real answer lies somewhere between parents bending over backward to plan activities and telling teenagers to be more inventive on their own.

Knowing that there is common ground is a start to building the community. How to reach it, nobody is quite sure. What is certain is that parents have to keep giving. Their children and retirees have to join them.

Perhaps that means a community fund-raiser involving children and parents to show their neighbors that teenagers are willing to work for what they want.

"When we were growing up, we didn't have to have everything furnished to us by adults," said resident Robert Moody, who is part of the Citrus Springs surveillance unit.

Last weekend, parents met with local children to ask them what needs to be done to keep them out of trouble. Only about 15 showed up, with a handful of adults and retirees.

"It just seems like these kids want things catered to them," Moody said. "Now there wasn't a big turnout, and I was disappointed about that. There are a lot more kids in this community, especially in the area where we're having trouble."

Among other activities, parents are planning a holiday social. Starting next year, residents will be able to use the Citrus Springs Country Club and the community center once a month for activities.

Residents, like Peter Monteleone, want to volunteer their time. He's investigating cleaning up the park and fixing basketball hoops so students have somewhere to go after school.

At Citrus Springs Middle School activities abound. Besides a slew of intramural sports _ weight lifting, volleyball and basketball to name a few _ arts and drama courses are offered as well.

"The majority of the kids are involved, they're doing their homework, going to bed at night," said Citrus County sheriff's Deputy Kevin Purinton, who is the Citrus Springs School resource officer.

At the Citrus Springs Volunteer Fire Department, 14- to 21-year-olds can train to work with firefighters. They don't get to actually enter burning houses, but through two-hour sessions twice a month, they learn to maintain equipment and assist officials.

After five public meetings, retirees and parents still have a way to go before the problem solves itself. Most agree that the solution ultimately lies at home. But at least retirees and teenagers alike are beginning to see that they need to work with the rest of their neighbors.