Complex's program is residents' key to jobs Classes for tenants help with social troubles at site

July 20, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Any day now, Arden White will learn if the door will open to a new life.

The 34-year-old single mother of two is waiting to hear if she will be hired as a secretary, after completing a job training program at Circle Terrace Apartments in Lansdowne, where she lives.

For White, the job training program offered a chance for her to find a way off Baltimore County's welfare rolls and into her first job in nearly 10 years.

The program, which helps participants earn General Educational Development diplomas, is among a number of steps taken by officials at the complex of 302 low-income units under a public-private partnership intended to help residents overcome the social problems that have troubled the housing site, once known as Lake in the Woods.

"We've got something good going on out here -- people's lives are being changed," said Diane C. Fitz- hugh, the case manager for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, a charitable organization, who has worked with Circle Terrace and other Lansdowne residents since last fall. "The people are starting not only jobs, they are starting careers."

Under new management, the landscaped grounds of the apartments tucked between Lansdowne and Riverview resemble a high-rent complex, though crime persists.

County police statistics from 1996 show 129 calls for disturbances, 44 juvenile complaints, 35 theft complaints and 40 battery complaints were made involving Circle Terrace.

Officials hope the problems facing the 793 tenants will decline if the complex is awarded the $125,000 Drug Elimination Grant they are seeking from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant would be used to institute after-school programs for youths and stronger security devices throughout the complex to help discourage drug dealers, said Cleveland Henry, Circle Terrace's resident services coordinator. The winners of the grants will be announced next month.

The drug elimination money would be the latest addition to a list of social programs at Circle Terrace that include the welfare-to-work effort sponsored by Goodwill, a lunch program for children and teen-agers, and county-funded literacy and computer classes.

In a small classroom that resembles a clubhouse, Fitzhugh uses nine computers to help train and teach Circle Terrace residents basic job skills such as interview techniques and work ethics.

Betty Vedeloff, who is a Baltimore County employee, also has used the computers to teach literacy to nearly a dozen Circle Terrace residents in the past year.

"From day one, it's been beneficial," Vedeloff said. "I'm seeing people that just want to get a job, who know that if they get a job they are going to be told they need the GED -- so they come here."

Circle Terrace's owner, Judith S. Siegel, said success depends on a strong private-public approach to help end welfare.

Siegel, a Warwick, R.I., developer and president of Landex Management Corp., which specializes in low-income housing, purchased the complex in 1991 when it had more than 2,000 code violations. Landex spent $15 million on the property, which rents mainly to Section 8, low-income tenants -- most of whom are single mothers.

"Our view is a holistic view -- there is no one entity, whether private or government, that can solve the problems of the housing needs of our country," Siegel said. "We have to come at it from a variety of skills and resources to tackle the problems. We are more than the sum of our parts."

White, a ninth-grade dropout of Baltimore's Edmondson High School, agrees. If she is hired as a secretary at Goodwill Industries, the job could help her move her two daughters out of Circle Terrace and into a larger home.

"I am proud of myself -- proud that I have a diploma and that I'm out here looking for a job," she said.

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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