Changing Charlie

Corey Peterkin success story
as told to Emily Wachowiak (Groupon staff writer)

“Ain’t no positivity in the streets. Everything is negative. Everything.” Corey Peterkin knew this first-hand, having spent his teen years dealing drugs and serving multiple jail sentences. And he knew that Charlie, only 15 years old, was heading down the same path. Charlie was one of Corey’s first clients at Safe Streets. “He was the wildest out of the crew. He stood out.”

[Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam]

Charlie’s father was in jail, and his mother was on drugs. When she’d leave in the morning, there was no one around to take care of Charlie’s 5-year old sister and 3-year-old brother, so he’d stay home from school to watch them. His mother would trade their federal aid and food stamps for drugs, leaving nothing to eat in the house. So Charlie took matters into his own hands—he began selling drugs to feed himself and his siblings. It consumed him completely. “Only thing on his mind is ‘I’m trying to feed my little brother and sister,’” recalls Corey.
When Corey took Charlie on as a client, he knew just how to reach him. “What will happen to the little sister and brother you love so much if you go to jail? Because you will go to jail. [If you go,] your sister and brother are going into a foster home. So what are you going to do?”

“What can I do?” Charlie asked. “I don’t know.”

Corey had a two-part plan for Charlie. First, he had to enroll in a job-readiness program. Though he was just a kid himself, Charlie needed a part-time job to help support his family. But most importantly, Charlie needed to get back in school.

Corey got Charlie’s grandmother involved. She hadn’t been aware how bad the situation was, but when she found out, she agreed to help take care of Charlie’s siblings. But it wasn’t easy getting Charlie back on track. “I had to be with him every day,” Corey recalls. “We had to do something every day.” Corey was constantly trying to keep Charlie away from guns and thwart his aggressive instincts. “He was a real hot head. […] There was nobody to challenge his anger or teach him another way to be.”

For two months straight, Corey saw Charlie every day, keeping him busy and teaching him about accountability and responsibility. “He gained support. He had his grandmother, and he had Safe Streets.” And he had Corey.

With Corey’s help, Charlie went on to get his GED. Now, just two years later, Charlie is working and taking care of his siblings, living with his Grandmother while his mother seeks treatment for her addiction.

Among Corey’s first clients, his success with Charlie had somewhat of a “domino effect.” He remembers thinking, “If I can just change Charlie, I know everybody else will follow suit.”

Corey and Charlie still hang out regularly, though Corey no longer considers him a client—“He’s my friend.”

Emily Wachowiak