The problem was trash. It had overrun West Baltimore's Upton community where Nabil Harim lives, and he couldn't get any help from the city or adult neighbors to help him clean the neighborhood.
"So I got the kids together, and we began cleaning up. They seemed to want to do it, and it worked, and now we do it all of the time," Mr. Harim said.
And the neighborhood became clean and usually stays clean through the efforts of Mr. Harim and his Upton Trashfighters.
It was stories like Mr. Harim's that interested and motivated the nearly 1,000 people who attended the Community Empowerment Conference last night at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.
Organizers of the conference said its objective was to share ideas and develop self-help programs that residents can use to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Another goal was to develop cost-effective ideas that the residents themselves could administer.
A panel will review some of the ideas later with community leaders.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the conference could counter many of the negative trends that have affected urban communities.
"We are not powerless. Trends are not the same as fate. They can be reversed if we choose to take control of our destiny," Mr. Schmoke said. "What needs to be done can be done."
Workshops were offered on a variety of topics including the environment, public safety, health, community organizing and housing.
Many at the conference noted that more needs to be done on the community level because of the decline in government funding.
"Even when resources are short and national priorities are mixed up, there is still something we can do for ourselves," Mr. Schmoke said.
Gerald B. Grimes, a corporate planner for Commonwealth Youth Employment Services and a workshop speaker on employment opportunities, said many unemployed residents are not aware of employment programs set up by the government.
"They think that government is unapproachable. You empower yourself by jumping in there," he said.
Although last night's conference was just the beginning of information-sharing, many residents left with new ways to approach problems in their communities.
Ann Nichols, president of the Pulaski Street Neighborhood Organization, said that for several months she has tried to obtain building in her neighborhood to hold classes for weekend and after-school reading programs.
"I got some good suggestions here, and I'm going to try to put them to use," Ms. Nichols said.
Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, one of the planners of the conference, said that the conference will produce a "can do" attitude in Baltimore.
"National leadership isn't focusing on what is happening in our community," Ms. Reeves said. "They hand off to the state, and they say do it. The state hands off to the city and says do it. Why can't we go back to the things we have done as families and neighbors?"