Jimmy Carter's example

June 17, 1992

Because of ex-President Jimmy Carter's personal involvement, a volunteer blitz to renovate 10 dilapidated row houses in West Baltimore has gotten ample publicity. Yet it is easy to miss the magnitude of what an alliance of churches and non-profit organizations is trying to do in Sandtown, with the aid of federal, state and city governments. As row houses are rehabilitated and new town house developments rise next to such landmarks as the old Frederick Douglass Senior High School (now an apartment complex) and the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, an old neighborhood is getting a new lease on life.

For anyone familiar with the area around North Gilmor and North Calhoun streets, this ambitious initiative of constructing 300 town houses for sale to low-income families is nothing short of a miracle of renewal. Much of the $23 million project is being done by regular contractors. But the volunteer effort glamorized by Mr. Carter shows that many ordinary people have enough skills to tackle substantial repairs if they are supervised by professionals. There ought to be nothing surprising about this. After all, the popularity of such do-it-yourself television shows as "This Old House" rests on the assumption that most people, with some help, are capable of transforming ramshackle shelters into livable and comfortable homes.

The project now taking shape in Sandtown is one of the biggest federally funded initiatives of its kind. Many believe it can pump new life into a neighborhood that had been deteriorating for years. Others wonder how the new homeowners will cope with the neighborhood's many problems, from drugs and guns to trash and prostitution. Turning the neighborhood around won't be easy, of course, although it should be easier because about 100 abandoned row houses in the area will be rehabilitated through volunteer efforts in addition to the new housing.

An ex-president does not visit Baltimore every day. But one who comes with a hammer and saw to do some honest work is always a welcome guest, bringing hope and inspiration.

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