Faced with the prospect of having to support herself and her soon-to-be-born baby with meager resources, Samala Mason of Millersville went to the county Department of Social Services last month expecting to apply for welfare.
But social workers offered her an enticing alternative: to become part of a pilot project designed to help participants achieve self-sufficiency in six months.
Yesterday, she became the first to enroll in the Community-Directed Assistance program, in which families are matched with community organizations who help them to organize their finances, find jobs, get education or whatever else they need to become self-sufficient.
"These people here are taking a little risk," Ardath Cade, who oversees the county's human services programs, said yesterday at a news conference to introduce Ms. Mason and her fiance, Douglas Blake Jr.
Instead of having the security of receiving a monthly welfare check, "What we're saying is, 'Are you willing to try something different?' " Ms. Cade said.
The Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) program, which is funded with federal and state money, "has gotten so bogged down with so many rules that . . . interfered with people becoming self-sufficient," she said.
The local program, the first of its kind in the state, avoids the red tape of AFDC by not accepting any federal money. Instead it will be funded with $300,000 in state and county grants. The goal is to assist 50 families in the first year.
Ms. Mason and Mr. Blake, the program's first family, will be sponsored by Second Chance Ministry, which is affiliated with First Baptist Church in Annapolis. Ms. Mason, who has a high school diploma, said her goal is to receive training as a child-care worker and some day open her own day-care center with Mr. Blake, whom she is to marry on July 30.
Mr. Blake also will participate in the program, and will receive assistance in geting his high school equivalency diploma and finding a job.
The Rev. Hulan Marshall, executive director of Second Chance, has been accompanying Mr. Blake on interviews.
He said members of his church are eager to help the young couple. "But we're not doing all the work ourselves," he added. "We're working with Douglas and Samala."