Jackpot: Casino grants go to homeless, schools and a neighborhood entrance

Arundel House of Hope got $25,000 to get the word out to homeless men and woman on where to find food, shelter and help.

Students at Meade High School will have access to $38,800 worth of iPads, and kids at Hebron-Harmon Elementary School are getting $12,000 for field trips.


And the Ridge Forest neighborhood plans to use $14,750 to build a second brick-and-cement sign at its community entrance.

The Local Development Council last week announced winners of $250,000 in grants designed to ease the impact of having the state's largest casino as a neighbor. It is the second year the grants have been awarded, funded from the county share of revenue at Maryland Live!


"We want to make a difference to as many organizations or community groups as we can," said Mike Caruthers, chairman of the council and president of Somerset Development.

The LDC was established after Maryland Live! opened in 2012, and consists of 15 community members appointed by the county executive.

Along with state senators, delegates and members of the Anne Arundel County Council, they evaluate applications for grants to be spent within three miles of the casino.

The money is separate from the millions of dollars in casino revenues the county is using to pay for added police and fire service in the Hanover area and other projects.

Community groups and nonprofit organizations within that radius can apply for up to $40,000. In its first year, the council handed out $100,000 and increased its request for funding to the county because of the number of applicants it couldn't help.

This year, applications for money totaled $350,000. Groups that did not receive grants will be eligible to apply again next year.

The largest grants, $40,000 each, went to Hospice of the Chesapeake for its Tate Hospice House in Linthicum, and the Anne Arundel Community Action Agency for mental health services for youth and families.

Council member Fran Schmidt, CEO of the Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said the council wanted to give money to groups that help low-income families, such as the Community Action Agency, and longtime contributors to the community, such as Hospice.


"What we look at is - especially because you have low-income areas within impact zone - if there are ways to improve quality of life," said Schmidt, who is also the CEO for the LDC.

Arundel House of Hope in Glen Burnie will use its $25,000 grant to expand its outreach. Mario Berninzoni, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group, said the money will fund a new staff member who will go to areas where homeless people are living and offer them services including housing, health care and employment help.

"We found that people didn't know about us and couldn't come to our day center," he said. "The homeless population can't move around very easily ... their main mode of transportation is walking so we need to go out to them."

Ridge Forest will use its $14,750 to build a second sign at the community entrance on Ridge Forest Way in Hanover. The current sign is a 3-foot-high brick-and-cement wall carved with the name of the community, and the second will mirror it.

Traffic, safety concerns

Patricia Smoot-Wood is a former secretary of the homeowners association board of directors. She said most residents opposed building the casino at Arundel Mills mall when it went before county voters in 2010.

She suspects most residents of the 100 or so homes in her neighborhood still feel the same way, although they are happy they've benefited from its success. Money from the grants also has been used to fix broken sidewalks.


"I think that people oppose and support issues for different reasons. I have more of a personal reason. I'm a Christian and I have difficulty with gambling and particularly that money was going to support schools. It just seemed not the right kind of thing," she said.

"But the concerns were about safety, the concerns were about traffic. We have a new traffic light at the road coming into our development. If we didn't have that traffic light, we couldn't get out onto that road."

Caruthers said the council was able to improve its rules for applicants this year, limiting grants to $40,000 and giving higher consideration to first-time applicants than ones that have come back a second time.

"As we go, we're adding things to the process that makes it more fair and more logical," he said.