The Rev. Johnny Calhoun A conversation last fall aboard a historic ship sparked the idea of bringing a Baltimore nonprofit program for at-risk youths to Annapolis this summer.
A tangible result could be rebuilt wood windows throughout the state capital's historic district. A more far-reaching result could be that the work would be done by local youths learning to become carpenters.
The proposal took a significant step this week as a group of city leaders toured the Living Classrooms Foundation campus in East Baltimore to watch its "learning by doing" educational philosophy at work.
"Start with one program and build from there," Steve Bountress, the foundation's operations director, told the group.
The Annapolis visitors learned how the foundation evolved from a simple boat-building program 20 years ago into an enterprise with 30,000 students enrolled annually in a range of classes. Living Classrooms' main campus is set on the Fells Point waterfront, but its reach extends farther out - recently it opened a program on the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C.
The foundation's story resonated with Tony J. Spencer, coordinator of community and social programs for Annapolis.
"My first job out of the Marines was boat-making, and after a little while, boy, I could build a boat," he said. "And what matters more than the skill is discipline and the mind-set of succeeding."
Spencer, who organized the visit, is overseeing the project for the city. The goal is to help youths - some who have dropped out of school and others who have had brushes with the law - find their way into the labor force by acquiring career skills and work habits.
Tuesday's trip came about after Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and James Piper Bond, the Living Classrooms Foundation president, discussed a partnership last fall during a daylong voyage from Baltimore to the U.S. Naval Academy aboard the Constellation, the Navy's last all-sail ship.
Moyer wants Living Classrooms to lead two summer programs, though details such as locations and costs have yet to be hammered out.
"I'd like to develop two small pilot programs," Moyer said. "First, making wood windows is a skill you can carry anywhere. Since we are a historic city, we have many, but when you go to repair them there are not enough skilled artisans."
The mayor added, "With our [Back Creek] nature park, we'd also like to develop skills to do with the environment and landscaping."
Glass-making and masonry are also under consideration, city officials said.
Living Classrooms is regrouping after a fatal accident involving a water taxi it operated. A year ago, a craft carrying 25 people capsized in the harbor during a sudden storm, killing five people. A subsequent federal lawsuit was settled by the foundation last fall for an undisclosed amount. The foundation no longer operates the water taxi service.
Living Classrooms is preparing to establish a carpentry and construction project in Annapolis. The cost to the city could be $60,000, depending on the number of foundation staff members needed to run the programs.
Youths who lack job skills are something Annapolis and Baltimore have in common, Spencer said.
The Annapolis entourage observed a wood shop class in an airy, barnlike building. One of the students was Kevin Hull, a 17-year-old from West Baltimore who takes the bus to campus.
Like many students, Kevin is learning skills he hopes will help him move away from troubling behavior in his past.
Pointing to a child-sized wood chair he had made, he said, "I'm going to give it to my little cousin."
Gregory Rapisarda, the wood-shop teacher and a program director, said, "These skills help guys be successful and stay on task, keeping their motivation, whether they're working on boats, furniture or windows."
The Rev. Johnny Calhoun of the Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Annapolis was impressed. "I'm interested in intervention and second chances," he said. "These workforce development programs facilitate social change in creative ways.
"We have to reach young people now and enhance their horizons."