Helping those in trouble help themselves

October 12, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

Mention the name Eisenhower and most folks will associate it with the dyed-in-the-wool Republican who became the nation's 34th president.

President Dwight David Eisenhower was a former military man who could never be mistaken for a liberal. Yet, there are lots of liberal ideas that are being generated under the Eisenhower name. And one of those ideas might wind up right here in Baltimore. How could this happen? To find out, I went to Washington.

At 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W., I found the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation. It's named after Milton Stover Eisenhower, Ike's younger brother, who at various times was himself a president -- of Kansas State, Pennsylvania State and the Johns Hopkins universities.

Milton S. Eisenhower's views and achievements are overshadowed by those of his more famous brother. It's often forgotten that he served as chairman of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1968-1969.

The foundation was formed in 1980 by Milton Eisenhower and others who served on the commission he headed or on the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) -- including Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and Alan Curtis, the foundation's president and chief executive officer,

Folks at the foundation "look at issues of poverty and race," said Leila McDowell, a staff member.

According to the foundation's Web site, it "is devoted to reducing inequality and poverty, enhancing opportunity and justice, redistributing money and power, and moderating the corruption and greed present in American democracy."

Yes, yes, I know. That little phrase "redistributing money and power" might cause you to think the foundation is a just a little bit commie. But it really isn't.

Some of that "redistributed" money the foundation redistributes itself -- to programs that have been found effective.

"We do a scientific evaluation of what works and what doesn't work," McDowell said. "Our policy is to fund what works rather than what doesn't work." Once a program works, foundation members try to replicate it in other parts of the country.

One of the things they are absolutely convinced works is a San Francisco foundation called Delancey Street, which they want to bring to Baltimore.

Started 30 years ago, Delancey Street brought together a group of ex-convicts and drug addicts who lived together with no supervisory staff. (Boy, no wonder the thing worked.)

Delancey Street residents live in a building constructed with their own labor. Some entered the program without even a high school education and left not only with GEDs but close to getting college degrees.

Delancey Street takes in $5 million a year from its businesses, which include a restaurant and a moving company. The focus is on education and vocational training.

The program receives no government funding.

Yes, you read that correctly. All of Delancey Street's money comes from revenue generated by the program's businesses. Hey, with no supervisors and no government officials sticking their noses in it, the program is a surefire winner, right?

"For me, the most exciting piece of that is the ability for [Delancey Street] to be self-governing," said Johnnie Gage, chief operating officer at the Eisenhower Foundation. Gage should know. It wasn't that long ago that he was a recovering addict himself, in Portland, Ore. After Gage started on what he called "the wonderful road to recovery," he and several others started Stay Clean, a program for Portland's addicts and ex-convicts that was strikingly similar to Delancey Street.

Gage went on to become an assistant to the city commissioner in Portland before he headed east and landed a part-time job at the Eisenhower Foundation. He soon worked his way up to chief operating officer. He and other foundation workers are certain that Delancey Street can be replicated in Baltimore.

That remains to be seen. But McDowell provided an ominous message that gives us the incentive for us to give it a try:

"Fifty-nine percent of those paroled from Maryland's prisons will return to Baltimore," she said.

Curtis gives Milton credit for drafting Ike's farewell speech as president, the one in which he warned about the military-industrial complex.

Fifty-nine percent of the state's parolees -- that's a lot of folks returning to a troubled city who'll be unemployed and unemployable. And perhaps it's time for someone to sound a new warning. Without efforts like Delancey Street, society faces a new danger -- this time it's the prison-industrial complex.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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