'Mini' Marines invade Cleveland for Marine Week 2012

Young Marines aspire to enlist in the Marine Corps

CLEVELAND - Numerous "mini" Marines have been spotted throughout the streets of downtown Cleveland during Marine Week 2012. The boys and girls, ranging from 8 to 18 years old, are dressed in fatigues or camouflage uniforms. You might notice a group of them under a tent near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Voinovich Park. All week, they are volunteering to help visitors locate names of the fallen along the replica wall.

More than 100 Young Marines are part of an official youth program at the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Brook Park. It is comparable to a Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts program, which promotes mental, moral and physical development of young Americans.

"I joined because I needed more discipline. I felt bad because of all of the trouble I was giving people, talking back and stuff," said 10-year-old Alexander Nystrom, of Parma.

"I used to get bullied a lot in school. Once I became a Young Marine, I earned more respect from my peers," explained 12-year-old Zakarie Baldwin, of Brooklyn.

Young Marines learn to be good citizens by performing 50 hours of community service each year. Upon completion, they earn annual promotions. Participants also earn ribbons by getting involved at their school, joining sports teams, playing musical instruments, taking CPR courses, etc.

"I joined because I wanted to go to new places and meet new people," said Cody Yerich, 14, of Eastlake.

Adult volunteers with the Greater Cleveland Young Marines program are on a mission to nurture and develop members into responsible citizens who live healthy, drug-free and gang-free lifestyles.

"We give guidance and supervision to the kids and teach them to be young role models," said William Taylor, a retired Marine who volunteers in the Young Marines' community service outreach program.

The program often inspires youth to join the Marine Corps when they come of age.

"My uncle encourages me to be a Marine like him," said Joseph Alcantara, 12, of Parma. "I want to be a Marine when I grow up."

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