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Ober marks 10th year of grants to nonprofits

Kristi Tousignant//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//December 2, 2012

Ober marks 10th year of grants to nonprofits

By Kristi Tousignant

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//December 2, 2012

The motto at the Druid House Mentoring Project, which helps homeless women and children in Baltimore, is “Expect A Lot.”

Representatives from YWCA Greater Baltimore, Sarah’s Hope and DC Central Kitchen received a total of $35,000 from Ober|Kaler last week. From left: YWCA Greater Baltimore CEO Mary Chestnut; Sheila Matthews, director of Sarah’s Hope; Ober|Kaler’s Joseph C. Kovars and Matthew T. Vocci; Barbara Crawford of Sarah’s Hope; Paul Day of DC Central Kitchen.

And, whether they expected it or not, the program, along with two others, received a lot from Ober|Kaler last week.

The law firm, which has offices in Baltimore and Washington, gave $10,000 each to the Druid House Mentoring Project, which is part of YWCA Greater Baltimore, and Sarah’s Hope, a shelter program sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, as well as $15,000 to DC Central Kitchen.

“The need is great in both D.C. and Baltimore to assist children,” said Matthew T. Vocci, an associate who is on the firm’s Grants Committee. “They seemed like the most deserving recipients.”

The law firm has been giving out grants to nonprofits helping at-risk youth every year since 2003, when it celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The recipients are chosen by a 12-person committee made up of employees in every sector of the firm.

With this 10th year of grants, the group has given more than $300,000, said Joseph C. Kovars, principal at the firm and the head of the Grants Committee.

“We did decide we wanted to get a little more focused on giving back to the community, in particular in cities where we have main offices,” Kovars said. “We thought it was important to improve the prospects of kids [who] are on the edge — on kind of a crossroads. If we can help them in a particular way, hopefully they will become better, self-sufficient contributors to the cities and make the cities better places.”

The grants went to specific programs within the three organizations.

The money for DC Central Kitchen will go toward its Healthy Futures program, which fights both obesity and hunger by providing low-income children with healthy meals and nutrition education. A group of Ober|Kaler attorneys will also volunteer next spring at the kitchen, which serves the hungry in Washington’s low-income wards 7 and 8.

Sarah’s Hope will use the money for its Children Services Program, which provides 160 homeless children in Baltimore with shelter, food, health care and academic help.

The Druid House Mentoring Project serves children who are part of the Druid House Transitional Housing Program, supplying a temporary residence in West Baltimore for 23 homeless families — mostly women with traumatic backgrounds and their children.

The families can stay at the house for two years while they get their lives on track, said Jo Martin, director of communications and development at YWCA. The program gives mothers time to figure out their futures by preparing for job interviews or studying for the GED.

The project started in September 2011 and is a partnership between the YWCA and The Michael Jones Mentoring Group Inc. Mentors come to the house and help kids with homework, talk to them and even take them to doctor’s appointments. They also take trips to places like the Inner Harbor and museums.

“In the big overview, it lets these children know this world is a much larger place than their neighborhood,” Martin said.

Right now, the project serves 20 teens, ranging from 13 to 16 years old. The money from Ober|Kaler will allow it offer mentoring for 6- to 12-year-olds as well. With the expansion, the program will serve 36 children, Martin said.

“This is really touchy-feely,” Martin said. “It’s actually difficult to get funding because it’s so personal, but the outcomes are quantifiable and measurable.”

The new services will be tailored for two age groups. For 10- to 12-year-olds, the program will be similar to the existing teens’ group, Martin said. The children will make healthy lunches, do chores, exercise and talk about issues important to them, like dealing with bullying and peer pressure. The group also will stress career planning and resistance to drug use, Martin said.

For 6- to 9-year-olds, the program will focus on building relationships within the families, Martin said. One key aspect is to have mothers read bedtime stories to their children, Martin said.

“All family members will share reading, some for the first time, and develop a closeness that they have never known,” Martin said. “It’s all been about survival up to this point.”

The program for the younger children will begin this week.

“It’s been shown that psychological outcomes improve when there is someone kids can count on and parents can count on …” Martin said. “This will allow us to stop the multi-generational cycle of poverty. It’s just really as simple as bedtime stories.”

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