Eighteen West Baltimore women are on their way from welfare to work or the promise of work typing medical reports.
They are the first graduates of Back to Basics Inc., a program based in the city's empowerment zone to teach medical transcription to welfare recipients, many of whom live in public housing projects.
Among them are Lakisha Hood, 22, who starts work today as a $6.55-an-hour transcriber with the University of Maryland Medical System.
"A lot of people say that's not much money. But you have to start somewhere," Ms. Hood, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, said yesterday after a graduation ceremony at the Baltimore City Community College's Harbor Campus.
"I wanted to get my foot in the door," she added. "I will work my way up. I want to own my own house."
Ms. Hood is one of four Back to Basics grads who already have been hired by the UMMS, a partner in the project along with Signet Bank and the city, and another handful are being interviewed for openings in the West Baltimore medical complex.
Dr. Stephen C. Schimpff, executive vice president of UMMS, promised to help the others find work with other hospitals and physicians.
"Medical transcription is a growing field," he said.
UMMS and the Council for Economic and Business Opportunities are working on establishing a minority-owned business venture to provide transcription services to health care providers, using the Back to Basics model of training welfare recipients to do the work.
The idea for such a company was outlined in the city's successful application for the $100 federal empowerment zone -- part of an economic development strategy to create spinoff business from the UMMS, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and other health care facilities located in the zone in East and West Baltimore.
Back to Basics was the brainchild of two West Baltimore ministers, the Rev. Althinia Hunt and the Rev. Vera C. Waters, pastors of Joshua Generation Church. "We presented the opportunity. They used the opportunity," Ms. Hunt said during yesterday's ceremony.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke praised the public-private effort. "This program couldn't work without partners," he said.
The city's Office of Employment Development kicked in $50,000, matched by federal job training funds, for the nine-month program. Signet Bank contributed another $25,000, much of it to equip a classroom fashioned out of apartments in the Lexington Terrace public housing project. UMMS provided internships and placement services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has agreed to fund the program for the next five years. Two of the 20 students who began the program last winter dropped out, officials said. The next class is scheduled to begin in January.