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Festival promotes sense of neighborhood


Like a well-tended sapling, a community service foundation has quietly but tenaciously sprung up in Northeast Baltimore, and it will hold a festival today to dig its roots in deeper.

The North East Regional Tenant and Community Association Inc. Community Foundation, a cluster of 10 neighborhood tenant groups striving to create neighborhood cohesion, wants to show residents that it cares.

Just as it has been doing for the past year and a half.

Since the association was formed in November 1992, it has focused on child care, distributing food and clothing in emergencies, karate classes, tutoring and aerobics. It also works with the city to cut crime and to reduce the number of students who drop out of school.

Emmanuel S. Holmes founded the association when he returned to Baltimore after a decade's absence to find the city had changed.

"It looked nicer physically . . . but people looked dead. They looked like they had no hope, nothing to hold onto," he said.

"You could see kids who looked like they had no intention of living a long life. That really bothered me.

"I look at our children out here dying and suffering every day, and my feeling is that if people like me don't care about our kids dying, not only who else would care, but really who else should care?"

Mr. Holmes' response was to acquire a building in the 5300 block of Goodnow Road and recruit volunteers to offer free activities such as the Youth Achievement in Technology program, which offers lessons in such things as desktop publishing Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

Several teen-agers participating in the program said last week that the exposure to computers made them want to go to college and learn more. One of them, Thomasina Redmond, 13, who described herself as a "computer nerd," created a group slogan: "We may be FEEBLE, but we have FAITH, and we are the FUTURE" -- and made a full-color, wall-sized banner.

Constance DeRamus, a mother of three, said her children have stopped bugging her to buy an expensive computer -- which she can't afford -- because they get plenty of hands-on time in the program. "At one point in time they had nothing, and NERTCA provided them with a lot," she said.

The association relies on private funding, including an $8,000 grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation. It serves 15,000 residents in the Goodnow Hill community, where many residents are in single-parent families and others have jobs but are poor, Mr. Holmes said.

In the Northeastern District, where the group engages in community policing in conjunction with the police, police statistics show that crime fell 9 percent in 1993, Lt. John Papier said.

Some schools send wayward students to the association's dropout-prevention program to get them back on track.

"We referred five or six of the students, and those who went regularly for the counseling we definitely saw a positive impact on the students," said Ernestine Lewis, principal of Sinclair Lane Elementary School. "I'd use NERTCA before suspending a student."

Today's festival will be held on the park grounds of the Garden Village apartments, at Sinclair Lane and Denview Way, beginning at noon. The foundation's fourth festival will include foot races, a barbecue, talent shows and other activities, Mr. Holmes said.

Volunteers also will use the festival as an opportunity to register people to vote, to survey the community's health care needs and to expand the association's roster of 200 volunteers.

"Everyone wants to belong to something, and we pick up volunteers like crazy" at festivals, Mr. Holmes said. "Helping people is therapeutic, and that's what people are reaching for, that therapy."

Involvement seems to have had the same effect on Mr. Holmes, who works 70 to 80 hours a week. "I have never been happier in my life," he said.

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