Church clings to plan for child-care center

Legislators reject state bonds to help pay for project

February 09, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the late 19th century, St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elkridge was as much a community center as it was a place of worship.

Families met there, classes were taught there for black youths, and everyone knew the way to the small church down the road. Today, church members say they would like to recapture some of that spirit with a proposed $900,000 child-care center.

"There is a need for affordable child care in this area," said the Rev. Alicia Byrd, pastor of St. Stephen's. "All we are really doing is continuing that tradition of serving that we have always had."

The project has met with resistance from some elected officials. The Howard County legislative delegation rejected a proposal last month that would have provided $392,500 in state bonds for the planned 8,000-square-foot center.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard Democrat, said she voted against the project in keeping with her belief in the separation of church and state.

"I vote against any projects that give money to religious organizations," Bobo said. "I'm sure they would do very good things in the community, but this is no different from any of the other proposals that I have not supported because they were religious organizations."

Byrd said the nonprofit St. Stephen's Economic Development Corporation Inc. was formed to keep the project separate from church affairs. The church, which was founded in 1874, has long been involved in community outreach, and Byrd said she sees an even greater need for that today.

"Our vision is to build a center where there will be positive activities for children of all ages in addition to the day care," Byrd said.

Byrd said plans for the center include a before- and after-school program, computer training, arts programs, meeting areas for community groups and a possible welfare-to-work program. The child-care center would serve youths ages 6 months to 17 years. She also said there has been substantial interest from community residents in having a child-care center nearby.

A recent study by the nonprofit found that among the 63 businesses within five to six miles of the church, there were 176 employees with children ages 6 months to 15. Of that group, 54 said they could use affordable child care.

"Parents would have entered their children yesterday if our center was open," said Patricia Rainey, a member of the church and the nonprofit organization. "We have been participating in child-care fairs, and there has been a great response. People basically like our plan of building a center which incorporates the needs of the older children and parents."

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard Democrat, said he plans to meet with Gov. Parris N. Glendening next week to seek funding for the center in the state budget.

"I think it's a great idea to have child care in that area, and I've gotten not one letter or phone call from the community opposing it," Turner said. "There is a big population of town homes and single-family homes down there who could use a child-care center."

The Rev. Roland Howard, an Elkridge resident and longtime community activist, said he supports the center but that project supporters might want to reconsider their strategy to get support from elected officials.

"They formed this separate entity to deal with the center, but it was formed with church members, which has given the impression that it is not a community project, but a church project," Howard said.

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