VISTA to aid in revival of Sandtown

December 03, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

VISTA, the 1960s-flavored anti-poverty agency, is coming to the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester to aid a 1990s-style assault on urban problems.

The Enterprise Foundation and Volunteers in Service to America are to announce in Washington today a partnership that would bring 17 VISTA volunteers to Sandtown, a community of 10,000 people beset by poverty, joblessness and crime. Seven other cities would receive two volunteers each under the plan.

Most or all of the Sandtown volunteers would be recruited from people already living in the neighborhood, said F. Barton Harvey III, chairman of Enterprise, the Columbia-based nonprofit group founded by developer James W. Rouse. Volunteers would start a one-year tour of duty next month.

"Certainly in Sandtown-Winchester, it won't be someone sent in from the outside to do good work," Mr. Harvey said. "It's someone out of the community, chosen at the grass-roots [level]."

Enterprise is working with Baltimore government and community residents on a "neighborhood transformation" project aimed at attacking Sandtown's social ills simultaneously.

The addition of the VISTA volunteers would nearly double the 21-person staff of Community Building in Partnership Inc., an agency set up to oversee the Sandtown project until a coordinating council of neighborhood residents is formed.

Barbara A. Bostick-Hunt, executive director of the agency, said the volunteers would help expand an anti-truancy program, link school dropouts with job and training opportunities, and work on neighborhood beautification.

Volunteers will receive a $652-a-month stipend plus medical benefits from VISTA, as well as accrue credit toward a $4,725 grant that can be used for college tuition.

"It's not a lot of money, but hopefully it will get people's interest," Ms. Bostick-Hunt said. "What we're finding is people do want to work."

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat who represents Sandtown in Congress and heads the Congressional Black Caucus, said the partnership "signifies a new era of activism for VISTA" and will "rekindle hopes of young people in those communities."

VISTA, which was founded in 1964, has about 3,500 volunteers nationwide. It appears poised for growth under the Clinton administration, which has stressed national service.

"Clearly, service is something this administration truly believes in," said Diana London, acting director of VISTA. "It's just a very different kind of attitude from what we've had in the last 12 years."

The Enterprise-VISTA partnership could be expanded if it proves successful, officials said.

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