25 to learn job skills in 6 months Civic Works program starts in Baltimore BALTIMORE CITY

February 23, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

Civic Works, the kind of youth service corps being championed by President Clinton as part of his domestic agenda to reshape America, officially kicked off its Baltimore program yesterday.

At Civic Works, housed in the historic Clifton Mansion in Northeast Baltimore, 25 males and females, who range in ages from 17 to 25, will learn carpentry, landscaping, construction skills and health care.

Civic Works' officials hope that with those skills will come self-esteem and pride in teamwork and the place where they live.

The Baltimore program is being funded until Sept. 30 by a $466,000 federal grant; private sector donations are expected to reach $150,000.

Officials say they hope to diversify their sources of financial support so the program can eventually become self-sustaining.

Participants in the program signed a 6-month contract, and are to be paid $130 weekly. Each will receive a $900 bonus upon successful completion of the contract and every Civic Works graduate will have the option of signing a final 6-month contract.

Similar programs not associated with Civic Works have already started in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities.

Other cities will begin Civic Works programs under the federal Commission on National and Community Service, whose primary architects were Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both D-Md., Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

For Ms. Mikulski, yesterday was a leap back across the decades.

"In the 1960s," she said, "I was a social worker and was following the directive from President [John F.] Kennedy to see what I could do for my country. Today, looking at this fine group of young people from Baltimore City, it kindles up kind of a 1990s version of working for a positive change sought by another president of the United States."

The members of the Civic Works team were selected from a field of more than 80 applicants who responded to advertisements placed in newspapers, youth organizations and area schools.

Dana Stein, executive director of the program, said his office continues to receive applications and another 25-person team is expected to begin training sometime in April.

Participants in the program have their work cut out for them.

Their days begin with calisthenics at 7:45 a.m., and then they report to their work assignments, either in the private sector, or in refurbishing the interior of the Clifton Mansion -- built in 1802 -- or in making the homes of the elderly more energy-efficient.

If they miss more than two days of work, or get suspended for violations ranging from physical violence, narcotics or alcohol use or lateness, they are dismissed from the program.

"The first primary objective is self-esteem because they need that before embarking on self-improvement out in the job market," said Eric Clay, a Civic Works teacher and counselor who is pursuing a graduate degree in counseling.

The expectations are high and the demands are intentionally "strict," said Mr. Clay.

Maurice Mason, 21, of West Baltimore, said he gave up a lucrative business of selling crack cocaine and heroin to sign up with the program. On most days, Mr. Mason helps lead calisthenics.

"I was into wrongdoing," said the high school dropout.

"But I looked at my two kids and I had to do right for them. I have to set an example because they have nobody else to look up to. And I have to look at myself and I'm learning here that I'm the most important person to me."

Keith Dover, 20, from East Baltimore, said he was glad to be on the Civic Works team, which began work about two weeks ago, "because they teach you more than just to hang drywall. We learn to be on a team and work for an objective that's good for everybody."

Mr. Dover said he graduated from Southern High School, never sold drugs and wants to provide a world with more promise for his young child.

The Rev. William J. Byron, past president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and currently a board member of the commission, sees Civic Works as a much-needed departure from a federal government that for the past 12 years paid little attention to the plight of America's urban centers.

"The timing of our beginning is excellent with President Clinton's wishes to do more constructive work in the nation's cities," he said.

"The team concept here is important because the team is emerging as the family unit for some of these people," Father Byron said.

"We have to offer more hope in our cities because things look so bleak . . . you hear from the street that teen-agers are talking with their friends who they want to serve as their pallbearers. They are deciding what they're going to wear to their own funerals."

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