Believe campaign volunteers pitch in to help city schools

Repair efforts could save system up to $10 million

August 16, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley's Believe in Our Schools campaign is expected to save the school system $5 million to $10 million and has resulted in physical improvements to 80 schools, according to an official in the mayor's office.

The campaign seeks volunteers to provide labor, money and supplies for the financially strapped school system, which has many antiquated buildings.

So far, 2,500 volunteers have participated in the campaign, some by helping to paint and remove trash from buildings and school grounds.

About 300 volunteers are skilled laborers, who have done technical work, such as repairing electrical and ventilating systems, said David Costello, director of the Mayor's Office of Community Investment.

"We're doing [improvements] that the school system wouldn't ordinarily get done," Costello said. "We're getting volunteer supplies and labor so the schools this fall will be cleaner and neater places to work and teach."

Although the campaign is slated to run into late next month, the mayor is moving to extend it, Costello said.

The program has benefited 80 city schools, and Costello said he estimates that by next month, when the new school session begins, the savings to the school system could total between $5 million and $10 million.

Many local trade unions have contributed money and workers for the campaign, said Bill Struever, a former school board member and president of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., a Baltimore development firm.

"There are huge needs for city schools that are going unmet because of a lack of funding," Struever said, adding: "Strong neighborhoods depend on having strong schools."

Struever's company has donated more than $250,000 toward fixing up five city elementary schools.

On Thursday, the impact of the Believe in Our Schools program was apparent at Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy in Northwest Baltimore, where the smell of wet paint hung heavily in the air.

Twenty-two youth group members donned work clothes and gripped brushes as they spread white paint onto the dull walls of Patterson Academy.

Some laughed as they coated the walls.

Others, such as 12-year-old Nia Hampton, painted quickly and quietly.

"It's a nice idea, but I don't like painting because it's hard work," Nia said.

After resting, she added with a smile: "But it's for a good cause."

Nia's labor did not go unnoticed.

"We're very excited about the cleanup," said Winifred Smith, an assistant principal at Patterson Academy.

Smith said she thinks the Believe effort is an important way to let students know that people besides their teachers care about them.

The program shows that "it's not just us pushing for them to do well; it's the community as well," Smith said.

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