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Classrooms foundation dedicates addition

The Living Classrooms Foundation dedicated its newest addition yesterday, an environmentally friendly building on its East Harbor campus named for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The Mikulski Workforce Development Center, a 3,000- square-foot building with a "green" roof, aims to help the foundation's classroom space for at-risk students.

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"It is an exciting day whenever we can open the doors of opportunity for our children," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who joined Mikulski, Mayor Martin O'Malley, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger at the ceremony.

Helped get funding

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Mikulski helped secure $300,000 in federal funding for the new center in 2001, and the city contributed $75,000. The rest of the approximately $500,000 came from private donations.

A large green ribbon tied in a bow surrounded the new center, which is in the shape of a ship and has the first "green" roof on Baltimore's waterfront, according to foundation officials.

Atop the roof is sedum, plants that don't need much soil or maintenance and whose root system won't damage the building underneath. The plants will reduce runoff and become part of the Living Classrooms environmental curriculum.

Providing space for the Living Classrooms Foundation's programs and for its Crossroads Middle School, the building was constructed by Project SERVE volunteers using donated materials. Classes will start next month.

"This ceremony is not about cutting ribbons, but about breaking chains," O'Malley said. "The chains of hopelessness, the chains of despair, the chains of drug addiction."

Established in 1985, the foundation seeks to help "at-risk" youths in a nontraditional way -- with job training and hands-on education, teaching areas that include carpentry, environmental science, history, economics and gardening, with an emphasis on career development and fostering self-confidence.

Project SERVE -- Service, Empowerment, Revitalization, Volunteerism and Employment -- is a program of the foundation and AmeriCorps. It teaches carpentry and construction skills.

'Listens to ... needs'

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James Piper Bond, president of the foundation, praised Mikulski and said she exemplifies what Living Classrooms tries to accomplish. "Senator Mikulski listens to people's needs and translates those needs into action," he said. "We try to help people help themselves."

Every Project SERVE student has had problems with drugs or crime. "But when they come to Project SERVE, they're done with that," Mikulski said.

"This building represents a passage -- to a new East Baltimore, to opportunity and to empowerment," she said. "Today is not about 'me'; it's about 'we.' It's about giving hope to everyone."

Project SERVE member Henry Knight spoke of how the program has helped him turn his life around and become a leader in his third year.

"The more I'm able to make a difference in somebody else's life, the better I feel about myself," Knight said. "I once was part of the problem, but today I'm part of the solution."

Mikulski was raised in Highlandtown, where her mother and father owned a grocery store and her family owned a bakery. "Every morning her father opened the grocery store and asked, 'Can I help you?'" said Sarbanes. "And that's what his daughter has been asking ever since."

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Mikulski said she was pleased to see the center open close to where she began her political career fighting a proposed highway through Fells Point 36 years ago.

"When you see the name 'Mikulski,' it will not be on a grocery store or bakery; it will be on the Workforce Development Center," Mikulski said. "Now let's say to all the kids in Baltimore, 'Good morning, kids, can I help you?'"


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