Mentoring and training programs to target Baltimore youth

The Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation announced Monday the launch of three mentoring, tutoring and job-training programs that aim to help children from some of Baltimore's most troubled neighborhoods.

Half a million dollars over the next two years will go toward one program that will pair mentors with Barclay elementary school students and two programs in Druid Heights that will work to lower dropout rates among high school students and help those who have already dropped out get diplomas, receive training and find employment.

Baltimore is one of 14 cities across the United States and Puerto Rico to receive a grant from the Eisenhower Foundation to implement the programs. Others include Oakland, Calif., Providence, R.I., and Jackson, Miss. The foundation is an international nonprofit that funds programs for children and families in the inner cities.

"The foundation looks for networks in cities in the toughest neighborhoods," said Alan Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation. "We try to find nonprofit community-based organizations that have potential in the areas of great need."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and foundation leaders announced the launch of the programs at a news conference at the Druid Hill Community Development Corp. The programs have been up and running in Baltimore for months but had not been formally announced until this week.

In the Barclay neighborhood, about 50 children at the Dallas F. Nicholas Senior Elementary School will receive one-on-one mentoring as part of the foundation's "Safe Haven" program there. Officers from the Baltimore Police Department are set to start a lacrosse league with kids at the school, said Omolara Fafore, a vice president at the Eisenhower Foundation.

Students from Goucher College will be called on to provide academic enrichment for the youngsters as well, said Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., which operates the Barclay program. Already, she said, the program is having a tangible effect on the neighborhood.

"The parents are thrilled that there's a place for the kids to go to that's safe," Stokes said.

Across town in Druid Heights, the community development corporation will run and operate the two Eisenhower-funded programs, which are both aimed at high school-age youths. The "Quantum Opportunities Program" will pair about 30 high school students with mentors, aiming ultimately to boost their chances of graduating.

In other cities in which it has been implemented, Fafore said, students in the Quantum program have higher graduation rates and do better on measures of math, social studies, reading and science.

"These are best practices that are proven," said Curtis, president of the foundation.

Twenty teenagers who have dropped out of school are the targets of the Argus Learning for Living Program, which will also operate out of Druid Heights. Several young men in the program attended the announcement on Monday, introduced themselves to the assembled crowd and spoke of their desire to obtain their high school equivalency diplomas and obtain jobs.

James Hendricks, 18, dropped out of New Hope Academy in September at the start of his senior year. He said he found himself "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and in trouble with the law, though he didn't give details. Through his probation officer, he learned about the Argus program just a week after he dropped out of school, and signed up.

In the program, he learns technical skills like carpentry and electrical wiring, earns money to support his family, and is working toward his equivalency diploma. He said he looks forward to getting off probation in July.

"The Argus program is helping me do that," he said.

The Eisenhower Foundation received the funds for the Baltimore programs and those in other cities from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Fafore described the new programs as a return to the city for the foundation, having launched its first Baltimore-based program in 1983.

"We have a rich history with Baltimore," she said, pointing to partnerships with city schools and the housing and police departments. Milton Eisenhower was a former president of the Johns Hopkins University.

The initial $500,000 slated for the three Baltimore programs is enough to keep them running for about two years, Curtis said. Ideally, the programs would run for four years or more to follow the students all through high school.

The foundation is applying for a continuation of the federal funds, Curtis said, "during a year in which, of course, there are all sorts of budget cuts," and he said the foundation hopes that the initial federal grant will serve as a magnet to attract further private and local funding.

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