Marine program for troubled youths remains afloat with creative financing

November 01, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

And now we pause for some good news about the state budget deficit.

Fort Smallwood Marine Institute, a private program for troubled youths that depends on the state for 90 percent of its budget, is managing to survive even though the Department of Juvenile Services has cut out its funding.

Call it the little-program-that-could. Or, better yet, the little-program-that-could-do-without. By shifting funds earmarked for capital improvements, Fort Smallwood's trustees and executive director have kept the marine program afloat.

The institute had about $35,000 from private sources -- the Joseph Meyerhoff Fund Inc. in Baltimore and a Delaware philanthropy that prefers to remain anonymous -- dedicated for a new vocational building. The groundbreaking was scheduled for Oct. 5.

News of the budget cut came Oct. 1.

"There wasn't any advance notice," executive director Michael R. Scanlan recalls. "It had been indicated to me in August that we would be spared. Of course, that was when the deficit was smaller. As it grew, we got pulled into it."

Scanlan, a former operations director at Fort Smallwood who had just returned in August to take over the top post, had many reactions upon hearing his program would lose $260,000, the balance of its $435,000 budget for fiscal year 1992. He felt shock, then denial. But he ruled out surrender.

The 20 trustees, whose ranks include judges, City Council members, educators and Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, were adamant that the institute survive, Scanlan says. So they decided to persuade their benefactors to let them use the capital funds for operating expenses. The Delaware group also has pledged an additional $25,000 for next year, Scanlan says.

As for the rest, the trustees hope to raise the money any way they can.

Fort Smallwood is part of a 28-school national program operated by the Florida-based Associated Marine Institutes Inc. Created by a judge and a marine biologist, the structured program combines academic courses with activities such as swimming, sailing and scuba diving.

Youths sent to Fort Smallwood are adolescents headed for trouble -- truancy, or more severe delinquency. They typically are male, although females may be assigned there as well. The institute currently has 30 males.

For the students' sake, Scanlan says, Fort Smallwood tried to operate as if it never were in jeopardy. "We told DJS, in effect, 'Call off the dogs, don't let the word get out.' They agreed to keep referring [students] and not to arrange for alternative placement."

Scanlan hopes, however, that the scramble for funds will be short-lived. Within the context of the state budget, or even the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services' budget, $435,000 is not a lot of money. His ultimate goal, he says, is to get a new contract with the state agency.

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