Men gather their courage, seek choices at workshop

March 16, 1994|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff Writer

Maxie Frankel didn't think he'd open his mouth, not with all these men around him. Mr. Frankel also worried about what women would think. Here he is, in some workshop called "For Men Only: Addressing the Problems, Creating Solutions" along with seven other uneducated men who are out of work and out of ideas.

"I was scared women would say: 'He's here. Why he's not out working?' " says Maxie Frankel, 44, of Baltimore. "I got to forget about that."

The other men at the workshop nod and smile.

In the packed convention room to their left, women are cheering and applauding in the "You Have the Power To Live Your Dreams" -- another session in a series of daylong workshops held Tuesday to counsel and educate Maryland welfare recipients. Maryland New Directions, a nonprofit organization, sponsored "New Choices Day," which included workshops on family budgeting, HIV education and resume writing. About 1,700 people signed up -- only a fraction of them men.

In the near-empty room where "For Men Only" is being held, the eight men and speaker J. B. Hanson of Maryland New Directions try to list life's priorities. Employment first, then family, then education. No, education needs to come after employment, some men say.

"Direction is first. I have no direction," says Steven Rich, a 36-year-old Baltimore man and former drug addict. "I need some help."

Education has to be first, says Mr. Frankel.

"Education is always holding me back," says Mr. Frankel, sitting front and center.

Mr. Frankel says he once provided for his family of five by selling drugs. But today, he wants help getting his high school equivalency diploma. He says he's been let go from welding and restaurant jobs because he's doesn't have his diploma.

Whatever the priority, "just to come out here takes some courage for us," says Terry Gaskins, who is taking adult-education courses.

Courage? Well, maybe. "I was raised," Mr. Frankel says, "to believe when you share something, someone comes along and takes it away."

Maybe it was desperation or Mr. Hanson's gentle prodding, but Maxie Frankel went on a sharing binge. He couldn't stop sharing. It feels good to talk about struggling to get a high school diploma, he says. After all, he was six points away from passing, but those essay questions sunk him last year, Mr. Frankel says.

The hour is up. The next round of workshops is starting, including the session "Messy Diapers, Constant Crying."

Despite the sharing in the men's workshop, the group never settles on a priority list.

J. B. Hanson tells the men to call him for anything, especially for information on GED courses.

Mr. Gaskins tells Mr. Frankel all about his adult-education class and how much Mr. Frankel might like the classes.

"That's why I had to open my mouth," Mr. Frankel says. "I never would have learned that."

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