Youths to lose summer haven Camp: A program that gave city children a place to learn and escape the danger of the streets will come to an end because of grant cuts.

July 02, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Iris Farabee said she'll never forget the day they buried 3-year-old Andre Antonio Dorsey, killed by a stray bullet from a drug-related shooting in 1992. Fueled by the memory of Andre in his casket and the sound of weeping children, she decided to try to change things.

So Farabee began a summer camp in her church to keep children off the street during the day. But her camp is running out of money and time, and soon will close.

"I feel like they're not just closing the door on the church, but they're closing the door on these children's lives," Farabee said last week. "I feel responsible. Just as responsible for that child hit by a stray bullet."

Farabee's summer camp, housed in the basement of Centennial Caroline United Methodist Church in East Baltimore, is home to the youths from the nearby low-income housing community. Since 1991, the camp has served 75 to 100 children each summer, providing a haven from crime.

The camp was funded by the Maryland Forward Summer Youth program, a joint effort by local churches and state agencies to provide summer programs to children throughout Maryland. Until this year about 60 centers received funding.

An expired grant cost Summer Youth $112,000, forcing it to cut 21 summer programs, including Farabee's summer camp.

To get funds this year, each center had to submit a detailed proposal and then was graded. Farabee's camp missed making the cut. Summer Youth officials could not be reached for comment last week.

"Every year we tell people they're not guaranteed to be in the program," said Renee Spence, director of government relations with the Maryland Department of Education.

Spence said she regrets losing the summer camp, but said most of the children could go to other area centers still funded by Summer Youth. Of the 39 programs still receiving money this year, 31 are in Baltimore.

But most of the children in Farabee's camp live next door.

Located across the street from the Latrobe public housing project, the church steps are full of eager children each morning and every afternoon. Some arrive accompanied by parents, but most walk without them, holding the hands of younger siblings.

"There are so much drugs in the area, so much crime here. It's hard for these kids. They can't but help to see what's going on around them," said Ella Jackson, who lives in the Latrobe community and has three children in the camp.

Jackson and other mothers say they are concerned about what may happen when the summer camp closes. For many of these children, fighting and "doing things they know aren't right" are the only options, Jackson said.

But when they're inside the basement learning their ABCs and 123s, there is no time or patience for doing what isn't right.

In one room last week, children waved their arms frantically to answer questions written on a chalkboard, blocking the view of those still feverishly copying the questions on paper. In another room, children watched "Barney," copying every move the dinosaur made.

Whether taking children swimming or traveling to amusement parks, Farabee is the ringleader. At a marathon pace she maneuvers herself through the children as they cling to her -- wanting permission or simply attention.

"You can always tell the new kids from the old ones. You're always [staying] behind them," Farabee explained as her watchful eyes scoured the basement. "You got to discipline them. I don't play. I love 'em, but I don't play."

After learning that the program would have to end, the camp workers agreed to work for free until the end of the month. Until then, Farabee said she will leave it in the hands of God and do the best she can.

"If someone doesn't speak up for those unable to speak for themselves, they'll just get passed over," she said.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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