Pioneer Drive community deems itself shortchanged Activists say their groups are passed over for funds

meeting with Gary sought

March 04, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The county pays too little attention to the struggling community along Pioneer Drive in Severn, community activists there say.

Residents Yvonne Johnson and Edith Perry say the neighborhood organizations they run have been passed over for funding by the private agency charged with assisting their community and other impoverished areas in the county.

As Arundel Community Development Services Inc., the private agency, prepares to pay a Washington-based organization $75,000 for social workers, residents have not been properly consulted, Johnson and Perry say.

They have gotten more than 130 residents to sign a petition asking County Executive John G. Gary to meet with residents and to address their concerns. The petition was mailed yesterday, with copies sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening; Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP; and other state, local and national officials.

"How long do we have to wait for services and for them to show some compassion for the community," said Johnson, president of Pioneers in Action. "We're tired of them dragging their feet. We want to talk to Mr. Gary so we can push things along."

Gary had not received the petition and letter yesterday and could not comment on them, his spokeswoman, Lisa Ritter, said. But he would probably be willing to meet with the community, she said.

"He's always delighted to meet with community associations, so I'm sure he would be delighted to meet with them and hear some of their concerns," Ritter said.

At the heart of the concerns is the belief that the development agency has deemed existing community organizations incapable of providing services and unworthy of financial assistance.

"I say because we are a poor, black neighborhood they feel that we don't know what to do," said Perry, founder of People on the Move.

The private agency awarded $35,000 to a nonprofit organization to run parenting programs in the community, an idea Perry said she had proposed. But before any contract was signed or money changed hands, Parents and Children Together said it could not take on another community, said Kathleen M. Koch, head of the development agency.

Because the agency turned down her request for money to build a recreation center, Johnson said, she relies on her own money, fund-raisers and money from the county Recreation and Parks Department -- $4,000 this year -- to pay for field trips, a youth basketball team and other activities.

Koch said her agency is not slighting existing groups but looks to invest federal block grants wisely.

"You have to have a certain capacity to administer those funds," she said. "Some groups aren't always ready."

The hiring of Washington-based Consortium for Services to Homeless Families Inc., also known as ConServe, is the agency's way of helping the community, Koch said.

ConServe, a private, nonprofit group that works in Washington and Baltimore communities, will bring two caseworkers and a community organizer, who may be hired from the community, to an office in the Pioneer Drive area.

The workers will go door to door and work with management companies to find "high-risk" families about to be evicted, in need of immediate drug counseling or a haven from abuse, said Janet Thompson, acting executive director.

It will also provide workshops on parenting, nutrition, budgeting and other topics.

The workers also will help community organizations such as Pioneers in Action and People on the Move find resources such as transportation to keep up their activities.

"We are not going in with our own agenda," Thompson said. "It's about going in and talking to the organizations and talking to the residents and saying, 'What do you feel you need?' "

Rose Tasker, principal of Van Bokkelen Elementary School, said she welcomes assistance from the Washington company.

"If we have a stable community, then we're going to have stable families and stable individuals, and I'll have children coming to school ready to learn," Tasker said.

The school employs a community liaison person who encourages parents to make sure their children attend school and refers families to various agencies for financial aid and other assistance.

But the liaison person and the school staff can't help everyone who needs help, Tasker said.

Johnson and Perry said the community does not need a "referral service." The money spent on ConServe, which could reach $400,000 over three years, would be better spent on a recreation center, they said.

"We already know where the sources are in the community if they need help with the rent or gas or food," Perry said.

"They know we want a community center; we've been shouting forever."

Building a community center is not so easy, said 4th District Councilman Bert L. Rice.

In the Pioneer Drive community, once designed for affordable homeownership, many homes are now owned by investors who live outside the community. Larger property owners are "not real amenable" to working with local government to provide community space or services for residents, Rice said.

"You're dealing with a private concern, and so you sort of go with hat in hand to get as much as you possibly can," he said.

Any attempt to build a community center, for example, would have to come through a partnership between the county and the landlords, he said, a partnership that does not exist.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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