By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 13, 2008
For $5,000, baseball fan Frank Cumberland will have his name and a personal message embossed on a gold-stitched Rawlings official Major League Baseball ball and prominently displayed in a Plexiglas case on a new Wall of Dreams at Nationals Park stadium.
The wall, a field of 1,026 gold-, red-, blue- and green-stitched baseballs in three cases in the center field plaza, was unveiled yesterday by the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation as another effort to raise money to help the community. The color of the stitching corresponds to the amount of the donation -- red for $250 through gold for $5,000.
The Lerner family, owner of the Washington Nationals, promised to be a good neighbor when the team moved into the new $611 million stadium in Southeast Washington, an impoverished area of repair shops and strip joints cut off from the rest of the city by a freeway once considered the wrong side of the tracks.
So the funds raised from the Wall of Dreams and other sources will be used not only to build a kids' baseball academy in Ward 7 and a new pediatric diabetes wing at Children's National Medical Center, but also, Nationals officials announced yesterday, to support projects closer to home in a new neighborhood initiative: the Hopkins Branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs and the nonprofit Earth Conservation Corps, both just down the street from Nationals Park.
"The coolest part of this new stadium is seeing the rejuvenation of this entire quadrant of the city," said Cumberland, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Fairfax. "I'm thrilled to be a part of that."
Cumberland's Grand Slam donation to the Wall of Fame is the first, followed by $5,000 donations made by Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes and pitcher Joel Hanrahan.
At a news conference at the Wall of Dreams yesterday, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, part owner of the team and chair of the Dream Foundation, said the neighborhood initiative is "the most crucial" part of the foundation's mission. "We're going to be here a long time," she said. "These are our neighbors."
She announced that the foundation is giving $50,000 this year to the Hopkins Branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs -- the only club left in the city in a public housing complex -- to hire a teen director. She said she liked that the club was so close to the stadium and walked over to talk about what it needed. She said the donation was only the beginning of what she expected would be a long-term partnership.
Hopkins Branch Director Tyrone Mahoney said the club, which helps 100 members, ages 5 through 18, provides a safe place to do homework and play sports. It has been wanting to hire a teen director to work on programs to reduce teen pregnancy and to help teach about money and becoming a responsible adult. "I'm just excited that we can make a difference in the community," he said.
The Dream Foundation will also give $40,000 a year for the next three years to the nonprofit Earth Conservation Corps. The group trains unemployed, out-of-school youths, ages 17 to 25, to clean the Anacostia River watershed, plant trees and work in environmental services and other careers. Team officials have hired a number of their graduates to work at the stadium, ushering, taking tickets, catering and maintaining the fields, a move corps President Glen O'Gilvie praised.
"Our youths come out of the crime hot spots in wards 6, 7 and 8. It was also named by the Fiscal Policy Institute the most impoverished area in the city," O'Gilvie said. "We take 50 youths every year to train. But we always get 200 applications or more. And there are over 11,000 disconnected youths that need a program like ours. This [grant] will help us reach more."
As rain began to fall and baseball fans poured into the park for the game against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals founding partner Jarvis C. Stewart rounded the corner to the Dream Foundation kiosk. He bought a $2,500 Triple Level baseball for the Wall of Dreams. "It's a great cause," he said. "And it's our responsibility."