Nearly a decade ago, a wealthy New York businessman, Eugene L. Lang, changed the lives of 60 youngsters in a poor East Harlem elementary school when he promised to pay their college tuition if they graduated from high school. In a neighborhood where three-quarters of the youngsters dropped out, Lang's challenge produced a dramatic turnaround: 40 of the students graduated from high school; 30 are now in college.
The program -- whose success Lang attributed not so much to the promise of financial aid as to the personal attention the children received from himself and his staff -- became a model for Batlimore's Project RAISE, a public-private partnership designed to reduce the drop-out rate and improve the chances of high-risk, inner-city public school students. RAISE matches 800 children with volunteer mentors from community groups, churches and businesses and coordinates their activities through paid staffers in the schools. The program guarantees that every child who finishes high school will have a chance to enter college, trade school or get a job with a local business.
Programs like RAISE try to create on a large scale the kind of sustained, caring relationships that make a positive difference in children's lives. Local business, church and community groups perform an invaluable service to Baltimore's future by encouraging their members to get involved.