Opportunity knocks on city doors

Annual summit seeks funding for the education and support of Baltimore families

May 13, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Amid the chess battles, playground games and a man in a pale orange suit making giraffes out of balloons, there was a serious message at yesterday's Opportunity Summit: provide funding for education programs that support children and families.

That message was delivered by about 7,000 people attending the summit at the Convention Center, and it was directed at Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Council members who were on hand early in the day as a show of support.

Yet the organizers of the event, first held in 1997, said a true show of support could be measured only in money.

For her part, Dixon has proposed $208.1 million for city schools, an increase of less than one-tenth of 1 percent over last year and nearly $1 million to hire 23 new recreation center staff members. And City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. has proposed paying teachers who work in the toughest schools up to a 15 percent premium.

But organizers called for dipping into surplus funds to expand educational and social service programs.

"We are not accepting a budget year after year that, at best, maintains the same problems," said Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of the Safe and Sound Campaign, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the event. "When you have opportunity, life turns out better, so fund it. Don't tell us how much you love children; you can tell us that after you fund the opportunity budget."

The group outlined an "opportunity budget" based on data gathered from analyzing how many children are in the city and the types of programs and support they need to succeed.

Their budget calls for adding $54 million to the city's capital budget to repair and maintain school buildings, and an additional $28 million into after-school programs, drug treatment and prenatal care initiatives.

Many of those attending wore "Fund $3 million for Community Schools" stickers and took a symbolic vote on a green ballot to express their support for the proposed opportunity budget, which Ferebee said was delivered to Dixon last week.

Maryland first lady Katie Curran O'Malley also showed up, cast a ballot and then told the audience about her experiences in the courtroom facing people with missed chances.

"It's not enough to say that kids and families have to have opportunity," said O'Malley. "We have to fund those opportunities and continue to fund those opportunities."

In addition to pushing for funding, the group wants to empower parents and youth to get involved in community programs.

About 50 vendors were on hand, among them: Just for Youth Inc, a nonprofit organization with science-based programming; Show and Tell Ministries, a faith based after-school initiative; and the Raven Chess Club.

Activities such as chess keep kids motivated to succeed, organizers said.

"We tend to focus on the ills of the city and invest in intervention as opposed to primary prevention," said Rebkha Atnafou, director of the After-School Institute, a partner organization that is a coalition of after-school programs. "We don't think children need to be fixed, they need the chance to become good citizens of the city of Baltimore, regardless of income."

Markia Waldburg, 18, who attends Bennett College in North Carolina, brought her 13-year-old cousin, Diamond Williams, and browsed the booths to pick up information about how to become more involved.

"I learned about a lot of different stuff they have around the city," Diamond said. "I didn't know that they had a lot of arts in the city and people with so many talents."

Waldburg, a political science major who wants to become a lawyer, said she plans to volunteer to teach dance and tutor at the Carmelo Anthony Youth Center, which she learned about yesterday.

"There are so many programs out there that youth can go to, and I support what they are doing," she said. "I'm going to help out in any way I can."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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