IS THE BALTIMORE community falling apart? Here are two stories.
The Choice Program, which works with some of Baltimore's most difficult kids, recently held a tree planting and neighborhood-beautification day at our office in Cherry Hill. Everyone said we were foolish -- none of the kids or adults in the neighborhood would show up to work, the trees and shrubs would be ripped up the first night and, if someone important did visit, it would be a terrific embarrassment.
We went ahead anyway.
The governor agreed to make an appearance. Parks Sausages agreed to donate 20 pounds of sausages; Black and Decker donated shovels and rakes and $2,500 to purchase the trees and shrubs; Hord, Coplan and Macht designed a landscape plan; the Baltimore Orioles agreed to rebuild the adjacent ball field, and Coca Cola donated the drinks.
It rained all Friday night and Saturday morning. Anywhere else the event would have been postponed. But over 140 people, including kids in the program, our neighbors, Governor Schaefer, Roland Hemond, Jeff Ballard, Ray Haysbert and Michael Hooker all showed up right on time at 8 a.m. Saturday. Some planted trees, some cooked sausages, some offered words of encouragement, others watched, but all contributed in one way or another. By the way, every tree and shrub is still in the ground today.
Second story. I told the tree story to a well educated stockbroker friend of mine the other day, and halfway through the telling he became visibly touched. He told me that he had long wanted to get involved with something that would bring meaning to his life. He was numbed by the emphasis on money making and getting ahead; he wanted more from life than moving up the corporate ladder.
Yes, Baltimore does have more than its share of problems and, yes, a recession could spell further trouble. But the strength of the city is its communities. As long as individual citizens and businesses actively look for ways to foster community, Baltimore is not falling apart.
Contributions to community can be of any size or form. The tree-planting day didn't require a large contribution from a business, or rely on the government for money or on someone else to do the manual labor. White and black, rich and poor, city dweller and suburbanite chipped in to build up Cherry Hill and make the day special. Through active partnership and real teamwork we Baltimoreans can make our city what it should be.
I read all summer that the lack of a vision for Baltimore inevitably will cause its demise. Well, vision is in the two stories I just told. We need to promote tangible efforts that will affect change -- not superficial public-relations stunts. We need every business entity, public and private, to follow the University of Maryland at Baltimore's lead and allow employees two hours of work time each week for volunteer work. We need to make the Greater Baltimore Committee honor 90 companies for civic leadership, not just nine.
Baltimore's future can be bright if Baltimoreans choose to get involved. There are untapped human resources -- like my stockbroker friend -- all over town who want to make a choice but who are unsure of how to get involved. Those in a position of power must continue to foster an atmosphere conducive to choosing; those who have already made the choice must lead, and those unsure must take the chance.
Baltimore was my choice when I came here three years ago. It is my choice today, because I've seen what is already here and what can be accomplished here. And Baltimore will be my choice. There's no better place to test and prove the effectiveness of human community.
Mr. Shriver directs The Choice Program, a community-based supervision and advocacy program sponsored by the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He lives in the Rosemont neighborhood of Baltimore.