10 get grants to improve Baltimore neighborhoods

Residential projects include HIV testing, tree plantings

November 08, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The tree man of Southwest Baltimore is getting money to plant his seeds.

In Hampden and Poppleton, young people will be documenting their communities with photographs.

And in Park Heights, a researcher will be trying to persuade people older than age 50 to be tested for HIV infection.

The projects are going forward with the help of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, a private foundation that will award nearly $500,000 in community fellowships today.

This is the fourth year the institute, a private foundation created by billionaire George Soros, has provided similar grants in Baltimore, where the OSI has a branch office.

This year's 10 fellows, chosen from more than 200 applicants, will spend 18 months pursuing projects to help "disenfranchised" Baltimore residents improve the places where they live. Each fellow will receive $48,750.

The grants to individuals for intensely local projects represent a grass-roots theory of philanthropy: Communities sometimes are best built -- and charitable investments best leveraged -- by starting small, from the bottom up.

One example of that philosophy is the grant to Gary Letteron, who has been known as the tree man of Southwest Baltimore for his work there as an urban forester. He will be planting 200 trees in Pigtown -- most of them along the community's main street, Washington Boulevard.

"What I'd like to set up to do is the greatest spring planting of all time," he said yesterday.

"It's wonderful," Letteron, 47, added. "They actually are going to relieve my financial pressures so I can do exactly what I think should be done."

The fellowships are designed expressly to "take risks" to help strengthen communities, said Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore.

`Strong democratic fabric'

"It's not just a charity impulse," Morris said. "It's really to help the city and the region as a whole, because we really feel strongly that you have to have a strong democratic fabric and inclusive approach or we're all going to fall behind."

Some past fellows are expanding on their work, Morris said.

Terry Hickey, a 1998 fellow who started a legal education program at Northwestern High School, has gone on to work at the University of Maryland Law School, helping to build a "law in action" program and a youth congress that will advise Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Another 1998 fellow, Lauren Abramson, started a community mediation program for young offenders as an alternative to detention. She's trying to set up a center to expand her work, Morris said.

Maturity called lacking

Morris acknowledges that not every project has been an immediate success, though she declines to be specific.

"There are some people who really did not have sufficient maturity and sufficient knowledge," she said. "They had a lot of passion and a lot of zeal, but they didn't have enough experience to figure out how to use 18 months of unstructured time."

Two of this year's projects are aimed at improving conditions in the city's Park Heights neighborhood.

Jean Yahudah, a community organizer for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association in Baltimore, will work with several community groups and state agencies to help young people in Park Heights steer clear of the drug trade.

Curtis Obi Obike, a doctoral candidate in public health at Morgan State University, will work with the Park Heights Community Health Alliance to reduce the number of HIV and AIDS cases among older residents of Park Heights. The Northwest Baltimore neighborhood has one of the highest rates of infection in the country, due in large part to intravenous drug use, health officials say.

`Infected by ignorance'

Obike, 46, said his first goal is to get residents to agree to be tested for the virus, so they won't infect others. "These people are getting infected by ignorance," he said. "If they change their attitudes, the community will change."

Marshall Clarke, a free-lance photographer, plans to teach Hampden and Poppleton youths to become "critical media consumers" by analyzing advertising and photographing their own images.

"Photography gives kids an outlet for what's going on inside them," said Clarke, 30.

Other fellows and their projects are:

Wanda Best, a food program specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will study access to food in Baltimore communities -- everything from where supermarkets exist to how a-rabs serve neighborhoods with horse-drawn carts.

Betty Thomas, a coordinator of services for South Baltimore Homeless Shelter, will work with Christ Lutheran Church to design a better system of affordable housing in South Baltimore.

Chauna Brocht, a policy analyst, will run workshops for grass-roots campaigns that operate in low-income communities.

Jennifer Ferrara, a media production coordinator, will work on media projects for community groups in the Middle East, South East and Charles Village neighborhoods of Baltimore.

Kara Hanson, who has been a community programs coordinator for a legal program, will work with the University of Maryland's Children's Law Clinic to design more effective ways of handling cases of children who have committed offenses involving weapons.

Stephanie Joseph plans to examine the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system with the Public Justice Center, and develop programs to help the girls and their families. Joseph has been a lawyer with the clinical program at American University.

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.