Collegians survey spaces where youths can play Data: College-age students spent the summer compiling statistics on activities for Baltimore children.

September 02, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Allie Harper has studied poverty in the hallowed halls of Harvard University and the streets of Baltimore. She likes the front-row view from Baltimore better.

In her Ivy League classroom, the 19-year-old became "frustrated because everything people have tried to solve poverty in our cities hasn't worked." But this summer, getting paid $10 an hour by the nonprofit Safe and Sound Campaign to venture into local neighborhoods, the Roland Park native found hope.

Harper, a sophomore, is part of a four-person "mapping" team of college-age students who spent the summer compiling statistics for Safe and Sound on after-school and out-of-school activities for Baltimore children, especially the disadvantaged.

Like census takers and pollsters, the quartet went to libraries, YMCAs, Police Athletic League sites and recreation centers to establish a comprehensive database of what is available for local children to do when they're not sitting in a classroom.

"It seemed like a brilliant approach because it focuses on kids," said Harper. "With some programs, people worry about who deserves help and who doesn't, but everyone can unite around kids."

The Safe and Sound approach to making life healthier and happier for Baltimore's children won a $10 million grant last month from United Way of Central Maryland. A year ago, the nonprofit program -- an offshoot of Baltimore Community Foundation -- landed a $5 million grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop a plan to ensure the health and safety of the city's children.

Safe and Sound's work is five-fold: support for families with young children; increase and improve out-of-school/after-school activities; enhance reading skills; reduce handgun violence; and under a category called "promises," work to change people's attitudes to make life more pleasant.

The United Way money has been targeted for family support. A second multimillion dollar donor -- as yet unidentified -- is considering funding Safe and Sound's out-of-school/after-school campaign.

Safe and Sound will use the information to improve what exists, fill in the gaps and map strategy to provide every child with something better to do than hang around or get into trouble. The group, with headquarters on East Read Street, will measure its efforts through school performance, teen-age pregnancy rates, juvenile crime and juvenile violence.

Said Derrick Paige, a 17-year-old mapper from St. Francis Academy on East Chase Street: "The point is, if youth makes a difference, adults in power will make these programs a part of their agenda."

Harper, Paige, Mary Warlow and Anisha Downs have met people from across the city's social strata this summer, from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to parents struggling to raise their children.

"I might not have affected everyone," said Downs, a sophomore civil engineering student at Morgan State University. "But I believe we can change attitudes. We went out trying to create positive attitudes."

Last week, the team arrived at the Police Athletic League center on Goodnow Road in Northeast Baltimore with their "Are You On The Map" questionnaires to find out what goes on there.

They primarily interviewed Officer Lorie Wallace, who is assigned to the center that serves more than 300 children a day during the summer. The mappers found out which bus lines serve the center, the breakdown between boys and girls ages 7 to 17, how much homework has to be accomplished before the fun begins.

They found out what's not available: victims' support services and health and nutrition programs.

"The only thing that hinders access to our program is the amount of space we have," said Wallace. "We accept pretty much everybody who comes by to register."

Some information isn't easily quantified. Natasha McMillian, representative of Civic Works -- a program for young people modeled on the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps -- told the Safe and Sound team: "When we first opened [the Goodnow PAL center], we couldn't buy a parent to come in here. Then, they saw their kids' grades going up and said, 'Hmm, something is going on over at PAL.' "

Martha Holleman, director of policy and planning for Safe and Sound, supervised the mappers' work.

"We're creating a [recreational, intellectual and cultural] database that we hope to make available online and by phone for young people and families by the first of the year," said Holleman, noting that information will be available by activity and geography. "You'll be able to call up and say you live at 32nd and Barclay, and we'll tell you what the closest thing for you to do is. Right now, there are slots for roughly 28,000 kids in after-school programs and we have a population [of] 97,000 between the ages of 5 and 14."

Warlow, entering her freshman year this fall at University of Virginia, says that the work has literally changed the way she sees the city. It helped, she said, to be seen as more than just a well-meaning youth when she showed up pen in hand to compile data.

"It always hurt my feelings growing up to feel that I wasn't being taken as seriously as I thought I should have been," she said. "When we grow up to have real power in the world, the things we're working on now will be better. I feel much more connected to Baltimore now than before. When I look at a boarded-up building now, I don't see what it is, I see what it could be."

Pub Date: 9/02/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.