Facility for teens touched by TV angel


April 16, 2001|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

VIEWERS OF Oprah Winfrey's show April 3 might have caught mention of Our House, an Ellicott City residential facility for at-risk teens.

It was the second mention of Our House on the television show. In August, executive director Richard Bienvenue appeared on the show when Our House won the once-a-week "Use Your Life" award that's part of Winfrey's Angel Network.

Each winners is given $50,000 to continue his or her work. In Bienvenue's case, that meant money toward the purchase and renovation of a second facility in Montgomery County.

Our House offers around-the-clock guidance to young men ages 16 to 21 who are referred from social and juvenile justice agencies, and from foster care. Students learn carpentry and graduate with a high school diploma and a guaranteed job.

Bienvenue, who has been in charge of Our House since it opened in Montgomery County in 1983 and moved to Ellicott City the next year, said the new facility, a 140-acre farm in Olney, will house 24 students, in addition to the eight being served in Ellicott City.

"We have quite a waiting list," Bienvenue said, explaining that the organization averages three referrals a week.

The Olney property is expected to open this summer. When it does, the program will expand to include auto repair, and buildings and ground maintenance, Bienvenue said.

The property cost $1.5 million to purchase, and needed extensive renovations because it had been abandoned for four years, Bienvenue said.

The program was nominated for the Angel award last year. Bienvenue said he and the organization underwent intensive scrutiny - even his personal credit cards were checked. But once the nomination turned into an award, the fun began.

An "Oprah" crew spent several days at Our House, filming students and faculty. Then Bienvenue was flown to Chicago, where he appeared on the show and received the award. He also collected $10,000 each from Stanley Tools and Home Depot, he said.

"It was neat," Bienvenue said. "I guess it was a bit overwhelming. It was quite a thing just to meet [Winfrey]. She's very, very nice, very congenial and very open to people. And her employees are just like she is. They made you feel like you were very welcome and very special."

Walking for a cause

Howard County Family Child Care Association is holding a walkathon May 6 to raise money and awareness about in-home child care.

The association provides training and peer support to family child care providers, said Erica Murphy, its director of fund raising.

The group used to have about 260 members, but it lost about 80 in the aftermath of the Kathleen A. Butcher trial, she said.

Butcher was a North Laurel child care provider convicted last month of manslaughter, child abuse and assault in the death of one of her young charges.

Murphy said her organization takes no position on the case, but it's clear the events prompted many child care providers to decide that the risks of caring for children outweighed the benefits.

The trial has created negative publicity for child care providers, Murphy said.

"We seek to raise public awareness of the many benefits of family child care and can include small group attention, educational excellence, family environment, higher accountability and decreased health and safety risks," she wrote in a news release.

The loss of members also has meant a loss of dues for the group. Murphy hopes the walk will offset the shortfall. "If we had 400 people and each one brought in 20 to 25 dollars, that would be a good turnout for us," she said. "We'd like to fund the next year without having to sell candles and chocolate bars."

The Baby K Walk-A-Thon (K stands for kilometer) will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Centennial Park. Registration: 301-776-4841.

Science awards

Several children from Elkridge Landing Middle School won awards at the seventh annual Howard County Technology Challenges Contest held March 31 at Wilde Lake High School.

Eighth-graders Matt Grabowski and C. J. Dyson won first prize for their project on magnetic levitation vehicles. Seventh-graders Bradley Pryor and John Bauman placed second for their straw bridges project.

More than 300 students in grades one through 12 competed in 15 challenges. The event was organized by Roy Rosnik of Hammond Middle School.

Traditional music

Columbia Pro Cantare will perform "Music of Jewish Traditions" at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia at 8 p.m. May 5.

Advance ticket sales are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. Tickets are $22 and $20 at the door.

Information: 410-465-5744 or 410-799-9321.

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