Computer lab starts rehab at center

Defense company's investment targets troubled Robinwood

June 17, 2007|By Rochelle McConkie | Rochelle McConkie,SUN REPORTER

It's a worn brick building surrounded by a well-used playground and basketball courts where most of the hoops are missing nets. But inside the Robinwood Community Center, youths and other residents can find a top-of-the-line computer laboratory with 10 19-inch flat screens, wireless Internet, printers and a projector.

Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor based in Linthicum, installed the new computer lab Friday as part of its renovation of the center in the Annapolis public housing neighborhood.

The company's work, which will include painting, replacing ceiling tiles, furniture and carpeting, and refurbishing the kitchen, is the first major investment in the community since the city, Anne Arundel County and the Annapolis Housing Authority vowed in February to turn around the troubled neighborhood and stem violence that had spread to Annapolis High School.

"There was a lot of public discussion about what's going on in Robinwood," said Eric Brown, the housing authority's executive director. "A representative said they wanted to do something, and the next thing I knew they were doing it. I don't think words can adequately express what the gist of this is."

After Jim Pitts, a Northrop Grumman sector president, expressed an interest in helping the community, company representatives met with the principal of Hillsmere Elementary School, which children living in Robinwood attend, to determine the needs of the center.

The computers then in the community center's lab were about 10 years old and were unable to use software supplied by the school, said Pam Jones, an information technology employee of Northrop Grumman who helped install the computers.

Fifteen to 20 students use the Robinwood computer lab every day during the school year to do their homework.

Betty Ann Weekly, who raised her three children in Robinwood and is director of the community center, said more people will go to the lab because of the new computers.

"The other ones were so slow and old," she said. "I think the school software will help kids with their homework."

Future Tech, a New York-based company that supplies Northrop Grumman's computers, donated $10,000 worth of computers and printers, said Howard Goren, a Future Tech employee.

Jack Martin, a Northrop Grumman spokesman, said his company has spent several thousand dollars on the community center, including volunteer hours by employees. Roanes Movers helped transport furniture and kitchen appliances.

Northrop Grumman is doing the renovation as part of a community outreach project by volunteers in the company's African-American task group.

This summer, the group is developing a program to mentor young children at the community center. Northrop also is looking into offering job training for parents and other adults in the neighborhood, and creating programs that other companies can duplicate elsewhere in the county.

"Any time we can get corporations to do things, that's a plus," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said.

Moyer, County Executive John R. Leopold and housing authority officials vowed "full-court press" to improve Robinwood after a spate of shootings involving young people with ties to Annapolis, including one on Thanksgiving weekend at Westfield Annapolis mall.

Suggestions that emerged from two panels since then include more police patrols, alcohol and drug treatment, activities for teenagers, a citywide baseball league, a community garden, murals, and programs for parents, mentoring and the GED. Lack of funding has been an obstacle.

Moyer said the city is working to create partnerships with the county to further a drug intervention program with the county health department. Last week, the city brought in rap and R&B artist Delray Richardson, who grew up in Robinwood, to speak at Annapolis High School as part of its Heroes program.

In April, the city and county organized an event in the neighborhood during which residents planted a community garden.

The city is also sponsoring the Sherwin-Williams program, 10 days of training in painting and drywall work. In August, there will be a similar training day for windows.

rochelle.mcconkie@baltsun.com

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