Learning skills, giving back Project SERVE graduates its first class Friday, after one year of work

October 28, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Sharon Harris was sitting outside her aunt's house last year when she noticed people applying the facades that have become the staple of many a vacant city rowhouse: wooden boards. Tired of the way her block had crumbled, the 41-year-old East Baltimore woman wanted to help change that trend.

Within a few months, Harris was a part of the crew, fixing up area houses in the Living Classrooms Foundation's Project SERVE, a program that works in the city's Empowerment Zone, an area designated for development dollars and tax breaks.

"The whole thing has been great for me, because I've never done this type of work before," said Harris, showing off her masonry skills yesterday in a gutted rowhouse in the 400 block of N. Castle St. "I like being able to help the community."

The program, called Service Empowerment Revitalization Volunteerism and Employment Training (SERVE), has made its presence felt on the east side.

In its first year, which concludes with a graduation ceremony Friday at the foundation's South Caroline Street campus, the 29 corps members have cleaned and boarded 500 houses, removed more than 1 million pounds of trash, rehabilitated four homes and completed 4,500 hours of community service, including building access ramps for disabled residents, and 500 hours of tutoring at the foundation's Frederick Douglass After School Program.

A group of city, state and corporate officials, including Sherry F. Bellamy, president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland, toured several project sites yesterday and met with some corps members.

The three-year program combines job training and community service in the Empowerment Zone through a partnership between the foundation and the city.

Funding for the $3 million program has come from private and public grants, said James Bond, president of the foundation, a nonprofit educational organization.

"We've been able to come in here like a catalyst and bring all these forces together," Bond said.

The foundation selects corps members from the Empowerment Zone. They spend four days in the field working and one day studying for their General Educational Development diploma.

Participants are paid a stipend and receive money for college tuition. After one year, they can reapply or look for jobs elsewhere.

James Haynie, 38, said he wants to continue his studies at Coppin State College. But, more than that, Haynie said, the program lets him return to neighborhoods where he grew up.

"This has given me the opportunity to expand my experiences and give back to the community," said Haynie, who was driving trucks before joining Project SERVE in June.

Haynie and other crew members have been boarding up homes and cleaning the broken branches, bottles and other garbage from a lot in the 1600 block of Eareckson Place this week.

Jeanette Holley, 71, said she's relieved someone is doing something to help her neighborhood: "The few of us left try to brush up the best we can, but it doesn't last."

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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