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Working to build homes and hopes


When it comes to rebuilding neighborhoods devastated by poverty, the Enterprise Foundation has found it easier to attract financial help for the more visible things.

Support comes more readily for redevelopment of crumbling rowhouses than for development of job skills for the unemployed, though the two go hand in hand, said Diana Spencer, development and communications manager of a nonprofit corporation working to rebuild West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

All that has made a $100,000 grant to the Columbia-based foundation -- which established the non-profit corporation a year ago -- all the more meaningful, Ms. Spencer said.

The unrestricted grant awarded last week by First National Bank of Maryland can go toward any of Community Building in Partnership Inc.'s day-to-day activities, which include making improvements in housing, education, human services, health care, public safety and employment, said Patrick Costigan, vice president and director of neighborhood transformation for the Enterprise Foundation. "This kind of a grant is very valuable," Mr. Costigan said. "It provides flexible support and leaves it to management to decide what the priorities are."

The national nonprofit Enterprise Foundation, which works with hundreds of locally based nonprofit groups to develop affordable homes for low-income residents, started the transformation program four years ago in partnership with city officials and Sandtown residents.

Since then, the partners have developed 300 new townhouses for ownership by low-income residents, renovated 600 apartments in Gilmore Homes public housing and developed community gardens in conjunction with Sandtown Habitat for Humanity.

In one of its larger efforts, the program is working with 18 for-profit and nonprofit developers to rehabilitate 600 vacant homes by the end of 1996. "It's easier to find financing for the housing end of things, the concrete things," Ms. Spencer said. "It's the things like education and employment that are so critical to the success of this but are more challenging to raise money for."

Community Building's board of directors will decide specifically how to use the unrestricted grant, Ms. Spencer said.

The transformation program has made strides in areas outside of housing such as health -- opening three elementary school-based health clinics; human services -- opening a community center; and jobs -- running a program to train dropouts in construction trades. The program is also starting Sandtown Works, a job assessment and placement effort in which businesses already have committed to hiring more than 110 Sandtown-Winchester residents.

The grant could be used to continue some of those efforts, said Ms. Spencer, adding that the corporation has just begun approaching the local corporate community for funding.

"This gift coming when it has and the size of it has given us a good jump start," she said.

Frank P. Bramble, president and chief executive officer of First National Bank, said the bank hopes to play a role in promoting homeownership and building better communities.

Ms. Spencer said the bank's grant should serve as "a sign to the corporate community that it's important that they have a role to ++ play in the transformation effort, and this is important to their success as well. People in Sandtown are potential and future employees and potential and future customers or potential and future burdens to society. They can make a difference here."

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