More and more kids, donors step through Ehrmann's Door

Bill Tanton

June 10, 1993|By Bill Tanton

They were rapping at The Door on Chester Street yesterday.

On a steamy afternoon in East Baltimore, Antonio Glover, 16, and his partner, Richard Hughes, 18, performed a rap number that was surprisingly professional.

As with all rap music, the words came fast and furious. One

phrase -- "the 'hood's all we know" -- stuck with me. Their rough, crime-ridden neighborhood was all that high school dropouts Antonio and Richard did know before they discovered The Door, the inner-city ministry founded by a former Baltimore Colt tackle, the Rev. Joe Ehrmann.

Now the two boys are part of a YouthWorks Project at The Door along with 11 other out-of-school, high-risk youngsters ages 16 to 21. They receive job skills training, life skills development and exposure to the work world.

On June 23, a lot of people who might not otherwise be exposed to rap may hear a few minutes of it from Antonio and Richard at a bull roast at the Timonium State Fair Exhibition Hall.

At least, I did everything but beg them to perform there. I think they'll do it.

The bull roast, to be attended by old Colt favorites such as John Unitas, Art Donovan, Lenny Moore and John Mackey, is called Colts, Cattle and Charity. It's a fund-raiser for The Door, founded by Ehrmann in 1986.

The start was as modest as you can get -- Joe Ehrmann walking the streets, telling people of his plan to help poor and disadvantaged youngsters.

At first there was a storefront. Then there was a place in a warehouse.

Three years ago The Door, with major financial support from three corporate groups, bought an abandoned church at 219 N. Chester St. for $175,000.

"This place is like heaven compared to the old warehouse," said Kristie Morris, The Door's director of development.

The Door is growing so rapidly that even the 14,000 square feet at the present site is inadequate. The Door is serving 250 kids and their families. One hundred twenty-five more youngsters are on a waiting list. The staff has grown to 18, the annual budget to $750,000. There are 3,000 persons on the donor list.

"We need three or four times the space we have now," Ehrmann says. "No matter how much space we have, we will not lack for opportunities to serve the kids of East Baltimore."

That means The Door has to raise the money to buy a larger site -- in the 'hood, of course -- and the bull roast should help in that respect.

Ticket sales will be cut off at 2,000. At $30 per, the event would gross $60,000.

"We hope to have a new place in two or three years," says Ehrmann.

Why is it so important that there be The Door? Listen to Debra Scott, who walks her three children 45 minutes each way to get to The Door and the haven it provides.

"You need it," she says, "if your 13-year-old's friends had guns and were selling drugs and were pressuring him to join.

"You need it if your 11-year-old saw a little boy shot in his neighborhood as he walked home from school.

"You need it if you desperately need support because you're barely making it, trying to provide for your family and teach them good values."

The Door's programs are multitudinous -- everyday after-school care, trips, a 10-week literary camp starting next Monday,

learning job skills, teams in baseball and lacrosse, a student leadership conference in Ocean City. The list goes on.

In the 2 1/2 years Kristie Morris has worked at The Door, the programs and the budget have almost doubled.

Rick Ebling is The Door's director of operations. He worked 15 years for the state's juvenile services department. Next month, he'll observe his first anniversary with The Door. "The year," Ebling says, "has been twice as busy as I thought it would be -- and twice as rewarding."

For the bull roast Ehrmann has lined up a speaker ideally suited to the occasion -- Raymond Berry, ex-Colt, Pro Football Hall of Fame member and former NFL coach.

"Raymond is great," says Ehrmann. "A lot of athletes have a very short walk through the religious life. Raymond has been on a 40-year walk."

Joe Ehrmann was not a religious man himself when he came to Baltimore after his college career at Syracuse. While Joe was playing defensive line for the Colts, his brother, Billy, died of leukemia at the age of 18.

That changed Joe Ehrmann the man forever. Because it did, hundreds of kids in East Baltimore are getting a better shot at life.

For bull roast tickets, call The Door at (410) 675-3288.

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