Elizabeth Wright thought she knew it all when she dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. She got a job, got married and had 11 children.
Now she's 64, and she realizes that when she quit school she didn't know the half of it. Drugs. Poverty. Violence. Those are a few of life's lessons she has learned.
For the past 30 years, as a resident of the Westport-Mount Winans public housing development in southwestern Baltimore, Wright has imparted those lessons to her neighbors. And this week, during an announcement by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of a new drug-fighting program, Wright and five others were honored for their work in the community.
The program is the Baltimore City Partnership for Drug-Free Neighborhoods. Funded by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Office for Substance Abuse Prevention, the program will help neighborhoods in the city fight drugs for the next five years.
Help will be tailored to the community. Program directors might provide a speaker or a video, or they might organize a block-watch program or a tenants' group.
The idea is to do something effective and long-lasting. People interested in the program should call 396-5264.
During his announcement of the program, Schmoke awarded citations to six people who have fought drug and alcohol abuse in their neighborhoods. Wright has been a volunteer fighter for nearly half her life.
She formed a Mothers Club in the 1960s that raised money to send Westport and Mount Winans children on field trips. She helped persuade the city to open a drug-treatment center in Cherry Hill in the 1970s.
In the 1980s she earned her high-school equivalency degree, took a college course in early-childhood development and became director of a day-care center. She also volunteers in an after-school program that offers art, recreation and tutoring.
"Children need direction," she said. "They think drugs are a way of life when they're exposed to them at such a young age."
Sidney Jenkins, 34, who also received a citation, saw another side of drug abuse at Foxwell Apartments in the 3700 block of Greenspring Ave. The 154-apartment complex is for elderly or disabled residents.
Soon after Jenkins moved in two years ago, he said, he noticed fancy cars parked out front and shady men conducting business inside.
"I noticed they weren't no doctors or undertakers," he said yesterday.
They were selling drugs to residents and dealing drugs inside the complex and in the parking lot, he said. He helped monitor the halls, form a block-watch group, re-energize the tenants' association, and start a drug-education program and a self-help group for teen-agers.
"I know we're not going to change the world in one day," Jenkins said. "But slowly but surely, things are getting better."
Others who received citations from the mayor:
Benjamin F. Mason launched Project BRAVE (Baltimoreans Reducing All Violent Encounters), which focuses on crime prevention and community empowerment.
Kay Perkins, who lives in Lauraville, came up with the idea of placing bulletin boards containing information about drug and alcohol abuse throughout her community.
Marie Pilachowski runs the largest "Just Say No!" club in the city, at Glenmount Elementary School.
Shantress Blackwell, a ninth-grader at Douglass High School, tries to stop students from using drugs before they start. She formed a school group concerned about drug abuse, homelessness and teen-age pregnancy.