Coalition seeks funds for new 'Believe' effort


In an outgrowth of the "Baltimore Believe" campaign, a broad coalition of foundations, businesses, city leaders and social advocates plans to raise $30 million during the next two years to strengthen programs that improve the lives of children and fight crime and drug abuse.

The effort, dubbed "Reason to Believe," began before the gubernatorial election in the fall, as the institutions realized they were competing for scarce money to accomplish many of the same goals.

Since then, "Reason to Believe" has grown to more than 30 participants, and organizers are looking for more, as a state budget crisis threatens programs. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has slashed funding for after-school programs and child-care subsidies for poor and moderate-income families.

"There is no private-money solution to the needs of these families and kids," said Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and chairman of the board of the Safe and Sound Campaign, an umbrella group that has raised money to improve conditions for children.

"If we say we're willing to spend our own money on them, somebody might say we aren't just playing around with public appropriations."

More than half the money - $18 million - has been at least tentatively committed by members of the coalition, Nelson said. Individuals, corporations and foundations across the city will be asked to contribute soon.

Although the group and its plans are evolving, the goal is to put the money into programs with a solid record of results.

A draft breakdown of the proposed investments includes $10 million for family support and drug treatment for parents of young children and uninsured adults; $6 million for school readiness programs; $12 million for after-school programs, internships and mentoring; $1.8 million to train police and find jobs for ex-prisoners; and $200,000 to find jobs for recovering addicts with children.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has helped lead the effort, said the deaths in October of seven members of the Dawson family - in a fire that police believe was set in retaliation for their complaints about drug dealing in their Oliver neighborhood - prompted a new spirit of cooperation.

"I think when the Dawson tragedy hit, that however much we might have been patting ourselves on the backs for improvements in the past few years, it made a lot of us in the city realize that we need to coordinate more," O'Malley said yesterday. "We need to subordinate our own private agendas to what the city needs at this critical juncture."

The original $2.1 million "Believe" ad campaign, a signature of the O'Malley administration, paid for commercials and other initiatives to convince Baltimoreans that together they can shake the citywide effects of drug addiction by encouraging treatment and helping the families of addicts.

As an outgrowth of that effort, "Reason to Believe" has created some strange bedfellows. One of the coalition's major partners, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), has publicly excoriated O'Malley in the past for what they say is his failure to fund its after-school programs and slowness in responding to neighborhood safety concerns.

"The emphasis here is that we bury past differences and move on for the greater good of the total community," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, clergy co-chairman of BUILD. "I don't remember a time in the past 30 years when there's been an effort of this capacity to bring together this many segments of the community. ... It's uptown seeking to call downtown to a common agenda."

Part of the plan, participants say, is to add political breadth and money to the voices of advocates historically seen as liberal and one-sided.

"I think this is just an effort, really, to look at the city as a whole, regardless of who's in power, and saying this city is going to die unless we start working much more aggressively," said Diana Morris, director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which has pledged $5 million. "This has to be a bipartisan effort."

The tricky part, organizers said, will be to convince state officials that the $30 million is meant not to replace government dollars but to attract them to programs deemed worthy of private investment.

"The fact that we're investing this amount of money in a down economy should be such a bright sign," said Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, which hopes to raise $5 million. "This is a strategic set of investments that should inspire government to do more."

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