Charity's mission: youth education Johnson's wife serves as chief fund-raiser

October 30, 1997|By Jon Morgan and Mike Klingaman | Jon Morgan and Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

The charity at the root of the latest Orioles controversy is a small organization with grand aspirations to promote academic excellence in children nationwide.

Founded in May 1994 by Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, the director of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the USA Scholars Scholarship Fund lost its corporate charter a few months later for failing to file proper documents.

The organization continued with volunteers and spent the next few years retooling itself, said Dr. Harvey J. Wachsman, a physician and attorney from Cedarhurst, N.Y., who is vice president of the charity.

"We were working on it to get it going during that time," Wachsman said.

On Aug. 28, 1997, it was revived with a new name, the Carson Scholars Fund Inc., and a paid staffer: Susan Johnson, wife of Orioles manager Davey Johnson.

Its mission is to identify promising youngsters as early as first grade and set aside $1,000 a year for them in a private fund to be used when they enter college. The money accumulates as long as the student maintains high standards of academics, community involvement and personal conduct.

"That's the incentive. As long as you continue with excellence and stay out of trouble, that money is available to you," said the charity's treasurer, Baltimore attorney Roger J. Bennett.

"The goal is to target the best and the brightest without regard to socioeconomic status or race. It's not looking just for needy people, but people with a lot of talent," Bennett said.

Applications are distributed in schools and referrals solicited from teachers, he said. The scholars can pursue any meaningful career, not just a medical one.

Money is being raised by a variety of sources, including an annual event at which Carson is the featured speaker. Carson gained international fame for leading the medical team that separated a pair of co-joined German twins in 1987. He is co-author of a pair of books, "Gifted Hands," his life story, and "Think Big," a book that encourages intellectual self-development.

"When it got to the point when it was more than we could run, we got a full-time fund-raiser," Bennett said.

That fund-raiser is Susan Johnson, who began as a volunteer with the group early this year and accepted a paid position as "managing director" and chief fund-raiser this summer.

"She's delightful, caring, outgoing, very vivacious," said Bennett.

Neither Wachsman nor Bennett could say how much the group has raised or given away or what its financial target is. They referred those questions to Susan Johnson, who did not respond to requests for comment.

In an interview published a few weeks ago in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Carson said scholarships have been awarded to 50 students in Delaware, Maryland and Washington. Eventually, the group wants to go national.

Representatives for the offices of the Maryland Secretary of State and state Attorney General, which oversee charities and foundations, said they have no filing on record for the new Carson Scholars Fund.

Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, Susan Johnson has raised money for a number of local groups, including Parents Anonymous and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

In March 1996, she co-founded the charitable organization Women in the Major Leagues, a group of baseball players' wives who raise money for the national group ChildHelp USA, which helps abused children. In September 1996, she organized a raffle that raised $44,000 for Parents Anonymous.

On Opening Day 1997, she held a fund-raiser at Ruth's Chris Steak House to benefit the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the scholarship fund. She helped organize a charity golf tournament last year with the Oriole Advocates.

Susan Johnson has been involved in fund-raising for more than a decade, since her son by a previous marriage, born deaf and blind, needed a school to attend in Florida. So she raised money to start the Jake Allen Center for Deaf-Blind Children in Zellwood, Fla.

This year, in August, she helped spearhead the raffle of a quilt made by Orioles wives that netted $32,000 for the Kennedy Krieger Patient Program.

Wachsman, for one, sees nothing wrong with Susan Johnson's husband steering a donation her way in the form of a fine against second baseman Roberto Alomar.

"What's wrong with that? This is to help kids," he said.

Carson, too, seemed appreciative of the effort. In a written statement, he said, "The Carson Scholars Fund is appreciative of the intention of the Baltimore Orioles to donate to this worthwhile cause, designed to reward exceptional academic students for their continuous dedication and hard work to achieve at the highest academic levels."

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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