Neighborhood groups to share ideas for programs

April 30, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

One neighborhood-based organization is helping Baltimore children to become the entrepreneurs of the future.

Another group has used the courts and community resolve to chase away drug dealers who once controlled their streets with dozens of foot soldiers.

A third has set up an after-school program to offer children a haven from the violent streets while helping them complete homework.

Those are three of the celebrated efforts started by neighborhood groups in Baltimore during the last year. Their ideas and others will be shared with community organizations today at the Citizens Planning and Housing Association's second annual Neighbor to Neighbor Expo at Western High School, 4600 Falls Road.

The event is expected to draw representatives from 200 community groups, who will exchange ideas about bright spots in Baltimore neighborhoods, said Roxie Braxton of the organizing group.

"Some of these ideas can be replicated across the city," he said.

One can be seen in action every day in a two-story home in the 2100 block of McCulloch St. At least 25 children assemble there after school to come up with ways to develop and market their own line of greeting cards under the name Umoja (Unity) Children.

Using the motto, "Youth from the Hood Working for Good," the business involving children ages 9 to 20 sold more than 600 boxes of Christmas and Kwanzaa cards during the last holiday season.

The idea was conceived after several neighborhood children asked the Rev. Curtis A. Jones of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church for summer jobs. The pastor challenged them to start a business of their own. They did. Now, from the building donated by the church, they design and sell greeting cards featuring black faces. The project was an instant success.

Umoja Children will share some of its secrets with other community groups during its presentation, titled "Enterprising Youth."

"We'd like to have the media talk about how young folks can do something positive instead of focusing on all the shooting," said the Rev. Karen Brown, who works with the young entrepreneurs.

Another idea to be touted at the event is the legal assault on drug dealers this year by the Franklin Square Community Association, which used the court system to board up vacant properties in the 1700 block of Fayette St. that were used by dealers and junkies.

The nuisance abatement law and assistance from the Community Law Center allowed the community to obtain court orders to seal the vacant houses. Residents say drug dealing in the neighborhood has diminished drastically since the action.

In the Evergreen Protective Association's neighborhood, Muriel Praileau wanted children to have a place to go after school.

Ms. Praileau's group was awarded a $2,500 grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation and was allowed to use space at Union Memorial United Methodist Church, at 2500 Harlem Ave. The after-school program opened in September and serves 20 children from pre-kindergarten to 10th grade. Ms. Praileau is not ready to call the program a success.

"We had hoped for at least 35 children," she said.

The program has five volunteers, most of them retired educators who serve snacks and help the children with homework. She said she originally wanted to conduct a computer-training program for youths. "But the kids needed help with homework. That was more important than teaching computer skills," Ms. Praileau said.

She said children have a "safe haven" from the streets. The program has been especially beneficial to children who are unsupervised after school, she said.

"I just see a need for it in our neighborhood," Ms. Praileau said. "And I think if more people begin to take an interest in these kids, some of the problems will be eliminated."

Other topics are home ownership, neighborhood safety and cleanups, caring for the elderly, providing affordable food, regulating troublesome liquor stores, tree planting and forcing landlords to remedy nuisance properties.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Council President Mary Pat Clarke are scheduled to appear.

Representatives from several city agencies and these organizations also will attend: Baltimore Partnership for Drug Free Neighborhoods, Baltimore Community Foundation, Baltimore Dollars for Scholars, Community Law Center, Morgan State University's Institute for Urban Research, Neighbors United and Project Share.

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