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Published: Monday, 11/26/2007

Tutoring to start for Greenbelt, Vistula children

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It happened casually as Gloria Dean Harris enjoyed her afternoons in the gazebo at Greenbelt Place Apartments.

Kids coming home from school would stop by and chat with the 51-year-old mother of four.

"•'Do you have any homework?'•" she would ask. "•'Then why are you not doing it?'•"

Before she knew it, she was helping the neighborhood children work on their assignments, just as she had helped her own children, and their friends, and her nieces and nephews.

This casual tutoring planted the seeds of the official launch at 4 p.m. today of a new after-school tutoring program for kids at Greenbelt, as well as any child living in the Vistula Historic District. The 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday-through-Thursday program is open to neighborhood children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

So far, nearly 50 children have signed up and plenty of adults have stepped forward to help.

Maxine Stokes, mother of boys ages 9 and 13, couldn't stay away if she wanted to. Once Taron Cunningham met her, she was "gung ho," she said. Mr. Cunningham is a community organizer for United North Community Development Corp., and the man helping people come together in the Greenbelt-Vistula area.

One of his gifts is finding the right people, and Ms. Stokes' trick-or-treat excursion signaled him that this was the right lady for community work.

"I saw her gathering a group of young people and commanding them during the Halloween Safety Night," a United North-sponsored program that took place the Friday before Halloween, Mr. Cunningham said.

Ms. Stokes was sort of a Pied Piper that night.

"Before we got out of the Greenbelt, we had 26 kids, and we picked up more en route. We ended up with 30 children to bring home," she said.

"I love the kids, love the kids," she said.

Helping in the tutoring program may help the whole neighborhood, she said.

"Hopefully this will bring the reputation of this area up," she said.

"We're really showing positive forces, what people who live here actually care about."

Lauren Hayes grew up in the Greenbelt, and now rents an apartment nearby. Mother of a 3-year-old daughter, she also was trying to help neighborhood kids when Mr. Cunningham met her.

This summer, she started a dance group called Affinity that a dozen neighborhood girls and boys take part in.

While it was easy for the group to practice three times a week when the weather was warm, "Now that it's gotten cold, we have nowhere to practice," she said.

Ms. Hayes' apartment complex has a sizeable community room, but until the launch of the tutoring program, it's been locked.

The Greenbelt aura is one of minimizing damage. For instance, no one can do laundry at the Greenbelt in the evenings or the weekends. The laundry room is only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With the start of the tutoring program, the community room will finally live up to its "community" name.

Tutoring will take place there, and Ms. Hayes will hold her dance practice immediately afterward.

"There's a lot of kids over here," said Laura Kimble, who has two sons and a daughter. Mrs. Kimble is making sure the community room receives all proper inspections for the tutoring program.

"They ought to have something to do rather than have them hanging around. You look at the news and [see] the scores of the children in math and reading. I think it's a great idea to help them" in those areas, Mrs. Kimble said.

The program will employ four teacher aides from the neighborhood, as well as two certified teachers, Mr. Cunningham said. Funding comes from United North Community Development and Scholars for the 21st Century, a for-profit tutoring company.

Neighbors who live in the area bounded by Lagrange and Cherry streets to the north and south, and Summit and Champlain streets to the east and west, have been working on the tutoring center's creation since this summer.

Regina Levinsky, who moved to Greenbelt in September, worked with Ms. Stokes to get the word out about the developing program, which also includes a boxing organization.

"Our intentions are to build better children in our community that aren't so aggressive and angry," she said. "I hope to see a lot of different things from this program, including having a good time instead of having problems."

The neighborhood has more than its share of crime and trouble, Ms. Levinsky said.

"I don't let my daughter go out very often. I don't let her go anywhere without me. That tells you a lot," she said.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Amadia, probably will enroll in the boxing program and participate in the tutoring, she said.

"There are enough residents interested and willing to help. I think this is going to go," Ms. Levinsky said.

Contact Jenni Laidman at jenni@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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