Lutherans plan center in Baltimore Two church agencies to relocate here from New York

City attracts nonprofits

New headquarters to house offices for four services

February 18, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has helped a quarter million people begin new lives in the United States, plans to move from New York to Baltimore within three years to join a sister agency in establishing a new inter-Lutheran center.

The refugee group, which has a budget of $10 million, will bring about 40 jobs here, said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., executive director. It will occupy the center along with Lutheran World Relief, headed by Kathryn F. Wolford, which is coming from New York with 25 jobs.

Known as LIRS, the refugee group was started in 1939 to resettle immigrants in the United States after they fled the Nazis.

Later it broadened its reach. Last year, working through 26 affiliate agencies in the United States, it helped 7,800 refugees begin anew in America. The largest group came from Bosnia; others were from Sudan, Somalia, Cuba, Iraq and elsewhere.

The center, Deffenbaugh said, will be home for at least two other Lutheran offices:

The Maryland-Delaware Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ten people work at its offices at 7604 York Road, including Bishop George Paul Mocko, who said, "It was inevitable for us to establish a Lutheran center since so many of our offices are scattered."

A local office of Tressler Lutheran Service, a social service agency based in Mechanicsburg, Pa., now operating with a half-dozen people at 5000 York Road.

There may be other tenants. A possible fifth center occupant might be a regional store of Augsburg Fortress, a Lutheran publication house.

To set up the center, a building may be bought, leased or built. The exact location is not yet known, but it will be in Baltimore, officials said.

"It's a credit to the city, state and business in Baltimore that they want to attract nonprofits to Baltimore and they care about the kind of work we do," Deffenbaugh added.

The mayor, the governor and business leaders have made a concerted effort to lure nonprofit agencies and other organizations to Baltimore.

A center for nonprofits

"You'll recall that part of the strategy outlined in a report we did a few years ago, called 'Baltimore: The Renaissance Continues,' was trying to make Baltimore a center for nonprofit organizations," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday. "We've been trying to follow that strategy because we think it makes a lot of sense for this area.

"But we were particularly pleased to get the Lutheran program because of our previous success with Catholic Relief Services," Schmoke said. "I think it creates for Baltimore a headquarters for not just national nonprofits but international nonprofit organizations, and that's a very significant development for our community."

Late last month, Lutheran World Relief officials were welcomed at a dinner by the Greater Baltimore Alliance, an economic development group headed by Ann Coscia. Deffenbaugh was a guest at the Baltimore gathering.

The board of directors of LIRS decided Feb. 3 in Phoenix, Ariz., to come to Baltimore. On Feb. 4, Deffenbaugh notified Coscia by phone and asked her to pass the word to the city and state, Wolford said.

Relocation by 2000

The move will be no later than March 2000, when the lease of the two New York agencies expires at 390 Park Ave. South, officials said.

The New York agencies are supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. An additional backer of LIRS is the small Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"Over the long term, LIRS felt we could work better in Baltimore than New York where we were a small fish in a big pond," Deffenbaugh said.

His agency also helps asylum-seekers, unaccompanied children and former refugees. It advocates programs welcoming uprooted people. Ten other staffers for the refugee agency will stay in New York and Washington.

Lutheran World Relief employs 40 people, 25 in New York and the rest in its three overseas offices in Lima, Peru, Niger in West Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa.

"We're similar to Catholic Relief Services," said Wolford, the president. Services include emergency aid, development, agriculture, loans to poor people to begin small businesses, food, primary health care, literacy and nonformal education.

"There won't be any major changes in LWR in the years ahead," she said. An area of relatively recent origin is peacemaking and conflict resolution; community leaders are trained in values and skills to improve life in their towns.

Clearing land mines

Ridding the world of land mines also is an LWR project.

More than 40,000 American Lutherans, more than any other group so far, have signed a petition urging an immediate ban on production, export and use of land mines. Other groups are also signing the petition, expected to go to President Clinton or Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright with 100,000 names in May.

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