Flexing muscles for funds Nonprofit: The Council on Legal Education Opportunity's executive director, who is the mother of the Baltimore Ravens' No. 1 draft pick, has plans on how to replace $2.9 million that Congress took away.

July 29, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

In Baltimore, Cassandra Sneed Ogden isn't a household name. But her son is.

He's Jonathan Ogden, the 320-pound, 6-foot-8 lineman who was this year's No. 1 draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

These days, Jonathan works through the trials of his first National Football League training camp. His mother is faced with an assignment no less daunting.

The elder Ogden is executive director of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, a nonprofit organization designed to give financial and moral support to minority and low-income law students.

These are lean times for CLEO. This year, Congress stripped it of $2.9 million, money that amounted to about 95 percent of the organization's annual budget.

It's Ogden's job to find another way to pay for CLEO's varied programs, which range from scholarships to a "summer institute" where students get instruction from law professors.

She's confident she can do just that.

"The goal is to get back the $2.9 million we have lost," Ogden says. "We're not going to do that overnight. It's a long-range goal."

Ogden already has shown a penchant for thinking creatively. She has scheduled a fund-raiser for CLEO in Baltimore Sept. 30. A drawing card will be her son, who also will make a sizable contribution to the group.

Ogden says Jonathan is a ardent supporter of CLEO -- and his mother. "Right now, Jonathan's focus is on doing his best on the offensive line for the Ravens," his mother says. "When he has time, he'll support me in my efforts to help kids. He understands how committed I am."

Ogden is not alone in singing the praises of CLEO, which is based in Washington. Those who have graduated from the program say its help was invaluable.

Baltimore lawyer Ada E. Cherry-Mahoi began her legal education with CLEO. She attended an intensive, six-week orientation program in the summer of 1981. Later, she received scholarship checks from CLEO during her years at the University of Maryland Law School.

Now, she's one of the program's most ardent supporters.

"CLEO is the kind of program people who don't like investing in the poor should love," says Cherry-Mahoi, who works for the Maryland Disability Law Center. "It's designed to enhance possibilities for people who have been economically underprivileged or face another obstacle."

In its 27 years, CLEO has helped hundreds of aspiring young lawyers. The competition for spots in its various programs can be intense. Each year, about 1,500 students apply to CLEO's summer institute program, hoping to gain one of 120 slots.

Many are minorities, but the program also offers help to students who are not minorities but come from poor backgrounds.

This year, CLEO institutes were held at the University of Richmond, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind. At each school, students took courses in traditional, first-year law school subjects, including torts, contracts and property. The instructors were law school professors, spending their summer vacations in front of eager students.

Some of the students already have been accepted to law schools. Others are hoping a strong showing at the CLEO institute will catch the attention of a law school admissions official and win them a spot in a future class.

Without federal dollars, CLEO turned to the nation's law schools to pay for the summer program. About 85 made contributions, Ogden says, including the law schools at the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland.

Now, Ogden, a Georgetown law graduate who got her job at CLEO 10 months ago, is trying to come up with money to kick-start CLEO's scholarship program. That one was suspended when federal funding dried up.

Ogden says she hears from students now in law school who were depending on the money. She tells them not to worry.

"We have about 250 students who will be in their second or third years [of school] in August," she says. "Last year, we gave those students $6,000 a year. This year, it disappeared.

"Law schools are trying to assist many of them in taking out larger loans. I tell them they have now made it through their first year of law school, so they are no longer disadvantaged. They will find a way to realize their goals."

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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