A Lower East Side police officer -- and an NYU student -- launched a program that has prevented crime for more than three decades.
A Lower East Side police officer -- and an NYU student -- launched a program that has prevented crime for more than three decades.
Co-founder Robert Siegal plays basketball in Tompkins Square Park with his new clients in 1979.

In 1977, a political science student at New York University named Robert Siegal lived in Manhattan's East Village and dedicated himself to helping the community's troubled teenagers and their families. At first, Siegal used his own studio apartment as a safe haven for neighborhood kids, helping them with their schoolwork and sometimes giving them leftover meal tickets in the NYU cafeterias. But ultimately, after going to court and convincing a judge to keep one teenager out of jail, he realized that this was the most important service he could provide. Together with Angel Rodriguez, who was an intermediate director at a local Boys Club, they formed a youth advocacy program -- naming it after their friend Andrew Glover, a New York City policeman. Officer Glover, who had made a second career out of helping children on the Lower East Side, was shot to death in 1975 at age 34 by a drug dealer. Sadly, Siegal also died young, from an illness in 1979, at the age of 28, but not before creating a program that would permanently change the community.

After Siegal's death, Rodriguez -- who had grown up on the Lower East Side before attending Baruch College -- was determined that the Andrew Glover Youth Program would thrive as his friend would have wanted it. ''I couldn't turn way from the kids, I couldn't give up the mission,'' he says. ''Bob loved the community and its people, and the people loved him. So I picked up the pieces and tried to put them together as Bob had described it." He spent so much time at the courts advocating for kids that the Legal Aid Society gave him an office at 100 Centre Street -- where the program's main office still is today. Realizing that he needed a place for the kids to go when he kept them out of prison, Rodriguez negotiated with the city in 1985 to buy an abandoned building at 100 Avenue B for $30,000. He used grant money to renovate it, and -- naming it the Robert Siegal Center -- hired a staff to offer counseling, supervision, and other services to teens who have been coming there every weekday since 1986.

Today, Avenues for Justice has expanded -- with a staff of 10 counselors and administrators, dozens of volunteers, and a second youth center that opened in East Harlem in 1998. Through generous donations from corporations and individuals, the centers now have computer rooms, study rooms, art supplies, kitchens, and other amenities. Rodriguez's tireless efforts to keep Robert Siegal's dream alive have won several of the city's top honors for social service.

Photo Gallery: AFJ's, formerly the Andrew Glover Youth Program, history »