The Orioles' new third baseman is going to bat for adult literacy in Baltimore.

Cal Ripken Jr. and his wife, Kelly, announced yesterday they were making a $250,000 donation to the Ripken Learning Center, one of 37 citywide literacy programs and referral agencies sponsored by Baltimore Reads Inc., a private nonprofit organization.

The event at Baltimore Reads marked the start of the seventh annual fund-raising drive for "Reading, Runs and Ripken," a program where donors pledge an amount for each run batted in Ripken gets during the season.

The program raises between $60,000 and $100,000 annually, said Maggi Gaines, executive director of Baltimore Reads.

The Ripkens stressed the importance they place on reading and said their appearance was to show public support for a cause they strongly support.

"We believe the first step in education is the ability to read. When the opportunity is not there, it affects how you function in society," Cal Ripken said.

The Ripken Learning Center opened in 1990 with a $100,000 donation from the baseball star. Since then, 1,456 people have participated in its programs, which include instruction in reading, writing, math and computer skills as well as internships for on-the-job training.

Since its inception in 1991, the "Reading, Runs and Ripken" program has raised $365,000 for the center. Since 1988, the Ripkens have helped raise $1.1 million for the organization, Gaines said.

One of the center's "learners," as the participants are called, Patty Carter, explained how the center had helped her obtain employment after the convenience store where she worked as an assistant manager closed. Carter of Waverly said she went to the center in July after trips to several agencies seeking employment counseling proved fruitless in finding a job.

"No one would hire me because I didn't have a high school diploma. But since coming here, I've improved my computer skills, my communication skills and my self-esteem. It's wonderful. When you leave here, you'll be ready to face the world," Carter said.

Carter, who is an intern with the city health department, said she recently took the General Educational Development test. She said she expects to pass when the results are announced next month and that she will then join the health department full time.

Without the center's help, "I'd still be pounding the pavement looking for employment or settling for some minimum-wage job that wouldn't support my family," said Carter, who has five daughters.

Yesterday's activities were also the kickoff event for the national book tour promoting Cal Ripken's autobiography, which has just been released and which he believes will aid his efforts to encourage literacy.

"Since I'm an advocate and I'm going to be out there promoting, I find myself in a very good position to promote reading through the book," Ripken said.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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