WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Giving the gift of hope for a brighter future through education is the goal of The Fishing School in Northeast Washington.The driving force behind this after school program is a former D.C. police officer who believes education is the best alternative to life on the streets or a jail cell.
Tom Lewis, the founder of The Fishing School,still chokes up when he thinks about what God has allowed him to do for young people in need.A 20-year veteran of the DC police department, this former beat police officer had seen it all.
"Over there on Wylie Street it was like a tomb. Dead people walking, walking and talking because they couldn't go any place..." recalls Lewis.
In the 80s, Wylie Street was one of the baddest locations in Northeast DC.
Lewis told us, "The reason they couldn't go any place was because of stones. Stones of illiteracy; stones of drug abuse; stones of child abuse; stones of excuse making; stones of unemployment and lack of education."
But Officer Lewis vowed he'd work to roll away those stones. When he retired, the cop-turned-social worker built a neighborhood center out of a burned out crack house. A handful of kids showed up after class at the place he now called "The Fishing School."
Lewis explained, "I heard this old adage if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime. That's it. I'll be fishing in the rivers of the minds of these children, these people..."
That was 1990. Today, the new Fishing School, on Meade Street, NE is an academic center and safe haven for more than 300 students during those critical hours after school.
Leo Givs, the Executive Director of The Fishing School, said, "Across America every single day when the school bell rings some 15 million students go home unsupervised."
He continued, "We know the hours between 3 & 6 is the key time when students get involved in drugs, pre-marital sex..."
"We know that programs like ours make a huge difference. I used to say we were making life changing work here, but after 5-years here I know we're doing life saving work," said Givs.
Even if sometimes that work looks a lot like play.
Meeta Sharma-Holt, Director of Programs, told us, "When they are in school they're learning math and reading -- when they come here they can apply those math, reading, reasoning, social skills--things needed to help them become inspired about their future... and help them think about ways in which they can be critical to our work force."
When Tom Lewis looks back to the Wylie Street days and to the present day Fishing School he is humbled and amazed at has been accomplished.
"I am grateful; just grateful to God," he said. ."..as a result of the stone rolling process, people are coming alive in a variety of ways."
If you'd like to see this story again, or make a year-end donation to The Fishing School, just follow the Fishing School link: www.fishingschool.org.