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Southeast To Receive $5.1 Million From Toyota

Donations Replace Plan For Auto Training Center

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page B01

Toyota Motor Sales USA plans to contribute $5.1 million over the next 10 years to educational and job training programs in Southeast Washington as a way of "giving back" to a city where it does business, a company spokesman said yesterday.

Toyota will purchase 43,000 books for elementary school libraries, buy equipment for Ballou Senior High School's automotive training program, establish a family literacy program and help build a vocational training facility, said Xavier Dominicis, a spokesman for the automaker.

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Toyota, which had proposed building an automotive training center in Southeast, decided instead to contribute to nonprofit initiatives after community activists objected to the site the company had selected, Dominicis said. Toyota had planned to spend about $5 million on a training center.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), a staunch supporter of the training center proposal, said through a spokesman yesterday that he is disappointed that Toyota decided not to build a center but is pleased that it "kept its word" to invest in the community.

"I am delighted by the contributions that Toyota Motor Sales USA is making to our city," Williams said. "The company's contributions to our public school libraries and to Ballou's automotive training program demonstrate Toyota's extraordinary commitment to improving the lives of children and families in the District."

Over the next 10 years, Toyota will contribute $1.5 million to a Ballou Senior High School program that trains students to work in retail and automotive service careers. The money will be used to buy high-tech diagnostic equipment, computer equipment, toolboxes and automotive parts.

Toyota also will provide $1.3 million over three years to buy 43,000 books -- 1,000 each for 43 Southeast public elementary schools.

A family literacy program will receive another $1.3 million over 10 years to help parents and children improve their reading skills.

Roxanne Evans, spokeswoman for D.C. public schools, said Toyota's contribution will be one of the largest known private donations to the school system. She said Toyota will also donate cars for students to work on to gain practical experience.

"This puts Toyota well into the driver's seat in terms of large donations and is the largest gift our Career Technology Education Department has ever received," Evans said. "The donation to the automotive program at Ballou creates enormous opportunities."

The Opportunities Industrialization Center of D.C., a vocational training and job placement program, will receive $1 million toward building a new headquarters.

F. Alexis H. Roberson, president of the center, said the new facility will train about 500 residents a year through several programs, including automotive mechanics and computer technology. The headquarters will be in Southeast Washington, but officials have not yet chosen a site.

"I'm excited about it," Roberson said. "When they came up with this strategy, I said, 'Well, it helps more people.' It goes from elementary to high school and to out-of-school youth and adults."

The family literacy program will be established by the National Center for Family Literacy.

Sharon Darling, president of the literacy center, said that Toyota has awarded more than $19 million over 12 years to fund similar programs in other cities.

She said her organization will look for a school or community-based group to host the program.

"We will bring together parents who don't have basic English or literacy skills and teach them the skills they need to be successful and to help their children," Darling said.

For 2 1/2 years, Toyota officials and community leaders had negotiated plans to build an automotive training center in Ward 8 -- which has the highest unemployment rate in the District -- to teach 150 unskilled residents a year.

While many residents had embraced the proposal, some members of a nearby church and former public housing tenants, all led by the Rev. James Coates, had opposed it.

They wanted to build affordable housing on the site the city had planned to lease for the center. Sheridan Terrace, a public housing complex that the city demolished, had been on the site.

Absalom Jordan, advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8 and chairman of the Coalition to Save Sheridan Terrace, said Toyota's decision is the direct result of their efforts.

"We're elated. We're happy that they want to make this type of commitment to Southeast. We were never opposed to a training facility. We just didn't want it at that site."

Mary Cuthbert, another Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner, had supported Toyota's training center proposal but called the contribution to Ballou's program "a win-win."

"This project, the way it is now, is better than it was before because it's in the school system," she said. "I'm really pleased about it."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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