Open Society Institute selects 10 from the area as `community fellows'

Winners get $48,750 each to address social needs and issues of concern

November 12, 2003|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

As an attorney for the disabled and a wheelchair user himself, Dale Reid knows how hard it can be for a person who can't walk to perform the simple act of voting.

For the next year and a half, Reid will be able to concentrate on changing that. As one of 10 "community fellows" to be announced today by the Open Society Institute in Baltimore, he will receive a grant to work full time investigating the accessibility of the city schools, churches and union halls that serve as polling places.

Reid, of Eldersburg, represented a wheelchair user who sued the Baltimore City Board of Elections last year after dragging himself by the arms up five steps to cast his primary vote at a Masonic hall.

"What you never know in this business is how many people with disabilities are sitting home [from the polls] and not complaining," Reid said.

Reid, 60, will work with the elections board to modify or relocate polling places that are too hard to get into.

Unlike most nonprofit grants, the yearly awards of $48,750 each go to individuals who often have the germ of an idea that Open Society - a private foundation created by billionaire financier George Soros - wants to test. This year's group was chosen from 300 applicants.

"The people who have gotten these grants, many of them, have basically created new organizations to address issues and needs that nobody else is dealing with," said Dick Cook, director of the Social Work Community Outreach Service at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and a member of the fellowship selection committee. "That's a pretty rare thing."

Several fellows will work on easing the return of prisoners to society. One of them, Leon Faruq of Baltimore, served 27 years in prison for his part in a Prince George's County killing.

On his release in 2000, he vowed to help others through the jarring transition. A nonprofit organization that he founded, Respect Outreach Center, is to train groups that work with former prisoners to help them develop the discipline to hold a job and to resist the temptations of crime.

Faruq, 52, said that without help former prisoners often see people on the outside as correctional officers or fellow inmates - and treat them as such.

"Most people aren't aware they have these issues," he said. "It could very well work against you on a job site."

Other fellows include:

Ameriga Strache, a teacher who will give English classes to Spanish-speaking construction workers.

Mellissa Rudder, an artist who will run a mask competition and exhibit to take away the stigma of mental illness.

Steven Rubin, a photographer who will help refugees who have been victims of torture heal with "art therapy."

Joseph Williams, an attorney who will start a program to strengthen relationships between incarcerated mothers and their children.

Samuel Epps, a political management consultant who will work with several groups on a campaign to reduce the number of Baltimoreans in prison by promoting drug treatment and follow-up counseling.

Bridget Muller, who will organize literacy programs for imprisoned adults and children.

Betty Robinson, who will create a network for organizers of working people, neighbors and marginalized groups.

Shawn James, an artist who will run a program to teach young people about business through mural painting.

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