Community leaders urged East Baltimore residents to ask their elected officials to preserve funding for family services programs yesterday.
Meeting at Casey Family Services on North Caroline Street, they said they worried that funding to the programs will be cut to help reduce the state's projected $1.8 billion budget deficit.
"We recognize the importance and difficulty of this task. But don't balance the budget on the backs of our children," Traci McLemore, director of the East Baltimore Collaborative, told the crowd of nearly three dozen adults, many with small children. "We want to preserve funding to support healthy families."
The East Baltimore Collaborative is a group of parents, residents and service providers that focuses on family support and early childhood issues. Providers make home visits to pregnant women and families with small children, run child-rearing groups, and assist with substance abuse treatment, among other services.
Service providers hope to continue their operations despite possible funding cuts. James Smith of the Center for Fathers, Families, and Workforce Development said that although the center is aware of the possible cuts, "we have such compassion and such a commitment to what we do that we will find a way to continue the services." Still, employees turned out to try to convince the government that funding is crucial.
At the meeting, organizers distributed 17 letters addressed to government officials for residents to sign and return. They hoped to get 100 packets of letters signed, McLemore said.
City Council members Paula Johnson Branch and Bernard C. "Jack" Young and former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr. attended the meeting.
Irby said he that budget cuts likely would hurt the family programs. "The cuts will be at the bottom of the scale," he said. Few people pay much attention to the most vulnerable citizens - the old and the young - he said.
Recipients of services told the crowd how the family support programs had helped them.
East Baltimore resident Chanda Brinkley, 23, held her 23-month-old son Christchand as she talked about the home visits that taught her about his mobility and mental development. Brinkley, a pre-kindergarten teacher, is co-chairwoman of the Success By 6 program, which emphasizes the need for children to be ready to learn when they start school.
If more children enter school ready to learn, the state could spend less on remedial school programs, McLemore said.
Similarly, preventing low birth weights for babies - such infants are more likely to develop physical or mental problems - could save the state money on Medicaid, said Peter Schafer, president of Baltimore City Healthy Start Inc.
"It's the best savings plan the state could have," said Hosea Chew, special projects coordinator for Council President Sheila Dixon.
Speakers emphasized, as do the programs, that parents be involved with their children. Speakers also urged adults to vote for representatives who will help children and families.
"I don't want to hear `I would die for my children' if you won't vote for your children," said Rosalie Streett of Success By 6.