Ehrmann keeps 'The Door' revolving with love for children

John Steadman

December 04, 1991|By John Steadman

Not from the sanctity of a pulpit but from the pain of the streets. The Rev. Joe Ehrmann, who took the hard knocks and handed out some himself, has made a remarkable change in his own personal pursuit of happiness. It comes in the fulfillment of doing for others -- this giant of a man with a white face, in a black neighborhood, who doesn't see color.

Ehrmann, who came to the National Football League with the Baltimore Colts and played as a defensive lineman for 13 years, has a ministry that deals with helping black children. It's located in East Baltimore, within the shadows of Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the good that's being accomplished should be a model for civic groups and even churches to follow.

The building, which serves as a classroom for 50 children from the first grade through junior high school, is in what was once the Friedan's Lutheran Church. There's a strict set of rules, including athletics and academics, that are followed every afternoon, and then in the evening there is counseling for parents.

Hall of Fame football player Lenny Moore marvels at what Ehrmann has contributed in only four years of involvement. "Joe is the point man in what is all-black clientele," says Moore. "Joe knows his calling, a direction from God in serving the spiritual and personal needs of the community. Some prosperous churches haven't been able to accomplish what he has been able to do. God has given him the equipment and the drive to do what he's doing."

There are 13 paid staff members and double that number of volunteers in what is known as "The Door," a project he invites anyone to scrutinize and, hopefully, to emulate.

Bob Lacy, who owns a painting contracting business, and his contemporaries, are enthused over what "The Door" represents. "What we are doing in behalf of families and churches, with children the focus, tells us one thing -- we have to do more," he says. "This is not a giveaway. The only thing given away in this building is love and understanding."

Ehrmann, who want off to divinity school after his pro football career ended and became an ordained minister, has found his own concept of helping children approved by the United Way and charitable agencies. There's always a need for more funding to meet an annual budget of $400,000 and he hopes 1,000 citizens will join the 1,500 who have come to his aid with contributions.

The man doesn't talk of himself or his accomplishments. He admits to one and all that he, indeed, found the light. "Joe stripped away politics and bureaucracy and reached into the 'grass roots,' " says Moore. "By that I mean the streets and corners of a poor neighborhood. I believe God provided him with this kind of a deep commitment."

Those youngsters who avail themselves of "The Door," located at 219 N. Chester St., find the facility an extension of the classroom, where they are helped with the details of homework and are introduced to cultural awareness and leadership development. It's all predicated toward building a self-image many of the recipients believed was not within their grasp.

"We must give to assist the poor and dis-enfranchised," says Ehrmann. "All of us have been created in the image of God. We must affirm the dignity of all people. Somehow we have to come together, forget race and get across social and economic lines."

What has being keeper of "The Door" taught him? "There's a feeling of hopelessness and pain with kids and parents," he answers. "When there's no hope, you turn to instant gratification. We have to stand up and make something happen. We need to start sharing resources. These people deserve a chance for security and to be somebody, which is what we all want." Ehrmann makes it clear he's not a "do-gooder." Nor are those working with him in behalf of helping children. His own past includes growing up in an area of Buffalo that was mostly deprived, where he rarely saw his father and was taught to fight and never to cry.

Yes, the reverend truly knows whereof he speaks. Why? Because he has been there in similar streets and alleys and on corners where he is now trying to rescue the children of today and point them for what will be a better tomorrow. That's his cause and calling.

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