Churches offer havens for students

October 04, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

In the brilliant morning sunshine before their first class yesterday, students spoke of a perilous, sometimes terrifying daily journey. Some recalled shootings in broad daylight; others, brutal beatings. Almost all have heard gunfire on their way to and from school through some of Baltimore's most violent streets.

Now, they said, at least they will have a place to run: eight East Baltimore churches that will serve as havens for children at 11 schools.

The city started the havens, refuges for frightened or threatened children, yesterday in response to long-standing concerns among students and their parents about violence in neighborhoods surrounding schools.

As about 1,000 students gathered in a field at Madison Square Recreation Center after marching 12 blocks along Caroline Street, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey told them, "You said, 'Sometimes I'm afraid going to school and going home.' The ministers here in East Baltimore answered that call . . . and that's what today is all about."

As part of the effort -- two years in the making -- volunteer clergy, parents and other residents will be at each of the churches to help youngsters from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each school day.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he hopes to expand "Safe Haven Networks" to other parts of the city, first in Walbrook, then elsewhere.

Repeating his favorite African proverb, Mr. Schmoke told the crowd, "We all believe that it takes a whole village to raise a child. I understand that, and so do these churches that have stepped forward, along with our teachers and principals, to tell our young people that they care."

Parents and students welcomed the new havens.

With Dunbar High's marching band playing and students marching behind blue-and-yellow signs that said "Our Children Are Safe Here," Dominique Ennals said he often feels anything but safe going to and from school.

"There's fights and guns shooting, lots of drug trafficking around my way, you know," said Dominique, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at City Springs Elementary School.

Michelle Watkins, another fifth-grader at the school, said, "Now we have a place to go so we don't get killed."

Louise Phipps Senft, a lawyer who has volunteered hundreds of hours to such havens, said she understands why children sometimes stay home from school.

"Fear," she told the students yesterday. "Fear can cripple us, and it is fear that children have expressed to us. Students told us . . . the one place, whether they attended church or not, that they felt was a safe place was a church."

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