Churches' donations to schools part of helping city communities

January 15, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

All last year, North Baltimore church leaders met to exchange views on neighborhood needs. Then they resolved to offer a partnership with four public elementary schools to become active "players" in the larger community.

Yesterday saw the first concrete result of those discussions: delivery of 1,400 pairs of new socks for students in the four schools and a donation of $3,000 to help buy uniforms.

"This is not about socks, but a rallying cry for our organization," said the Rev. William A. Au, pastor of SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in the 2800 block of N. Charles St.

The clergy alliance formed as an offshoot of the Greater Homewood Renaissance, a plan developed last year to link North Baltimore communities more effectively. It is the first time in two decades the area's religious communities have organized for community involvement.

"It sounds simple, but it's quite significant," said Sharon Smith, the development and education director of University Baptist Church in the 3500 block of N. Charles St. "Churches have been doing things on their own, but partnerships are a new model."

A Johns Hopkins University sociological study clarified their focus by highlighting needs.

"We knew we had to focus to be effective. That's why we chose four specific schools" based on economics and demographics, said Smith.

The schools are Dallas Nicholas on East 21st Street, Margaret Brent on East 26th Street, Mildred Monroe on Guilford Avenue, and Barclay Elementary and Middle on Barclay Street.

Other churches participating include Oak Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, Koinonia Baptist Church, St. Mark's Lutheran Church and Lovely Lane United Methodist Church.

When school representatives met with the clergy to describe classrooms short of textbooks and children short of basic garments -- such as mittens, socks and underwear -- "It struck a nerve. It was an eye-opener," said Au.

As Principal Ardena Dixon of Dallas Nicholas accepted the gift at her school yesterday, she said, "This is where the real cold hits. This will be a blessing for our young people."

According to Au, pastors, congregations and the schools will work to develop a three-tiered approach in their new partnership.

"The first is responding to basic material needs," he said. "The second tier is volunteer mentoring. And the third is advocacy.

"The biggest power we [pastors] have is to draw public attention" to problems in the four public schools, said Au.

The Rev. Errol Smith of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church said that through their dialogue, the clergy "began to realize that while each parish may have limited resources, together we have considerable expertise, energy and facilities."

Speaking to school principals yesterday, Au said, "We'd like to continue the conversation, and see this as the beginning of a friendship."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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