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Penn North community leader calls for city to spend millions on kids, not trash cans

Organizers of the Penn North Safe Zone and about two dozen students came to City Hall Wednesday to ask Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to supply funding for a group that's providing activities for young people in one of Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods.

"On June 1, we opened a Kids Safe Zone in Sandtown-Winchester in a vacant laundromat," said Ericka L. Alston, spokeswoman for the Penn-North Community Resource Center. "We've transformed that laundromat into a safe haven for children. The curriculum is 'stay alive.'"

Alston said her group has served more than 3,000 children this summer, and needs about $218,000 to fund the work year-round. She reached out to the mayor's office to help, but was initially "ignored," she said.

Alston and others at the center said they grew more upset this month when the mayor announced a $10 million plan to provide all households in Baltimore with huge, durable trash cans to better control the city's rat population.

"The mayor announced she's spending $10 million for trash cans, and we got a little upset," Alston said. "We've got zero funding, and there's $10 million for trash cans? In no way are we bashing the mayor. We are asking for support."

Rawlings-Blake met with Alston and the students Wednesday. She said city officials recently set aside an extra $4.2 million in the budget for after-school and summer school programs, and would work with the Penn North Safe Zone to apply for that funding. 

She said the funding is there to help "organizations that have more heart and passion than paperwork."

The mayor plans to visit the center next month for more discussions. She said her staff also is setting up meetings with the group to discuss obtaining funding.

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