Before Msgr. Geno Baroni died of cancer here in 1984 he cut a swath across the District and the nation leading to a community activism ethic among disparate peoples, businesses and governments that continues to improve the quality of life in urban neighborhoods.

Appropriately Baroni's legacy will be furthered today, his birthday, by two events -- the dedication of the Geno Baroni Apartments and the first meeting of the Geno Charles Baroni Society for Empowerment, Change and Social Invention -- that are representative of his fervent nature.

"He would say life is like two loaves of bread," Baroni Society President Arthur Naparstek said. "One is for the stomach and the other you sell to buy something for the soul. He was very humble but also very pragmatic."

The Baroni Apartments, at 1414 V St. NW, across from the property of St. Augustine Catholic Church, where Baroni was an assistant pastor in the 1960s, were developed jointly by the 14th and U Streets Coalition, a Shaw development group; a private developer and the federal and city governments.

Construction of the building was completed late last month, and a third of the three-story, red-brick building's 32 units were set aside for low-income tenants.

Baroni, who served four years in the Carter adminstration as an assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development for neighborhood development, helped set up the financing for the project before his death.

The opening of the Reeves Municipal Center, which is next to the Baroni Apartments, and projects such as the Samuel C. Jackson Plaza -- a conglomeration of apartments and commercial space that will be built at 14th Street and Florida Avenue and on the old Children's Hospital site on 13th Street between V and W streets -- are tangible results of the kind of community partnerships Baroni fostered in 1968 to bring the area out of the wreckage left by riots.

Dominic T. Moulden, director of Community Outreach at St. Augustine and a 14th and U Street Coalition board member, said a tenant association planned for the Baroni building is also part of the legacy. "We need the people to be cognizant of all this development and keep that Geno Baroni ethic going," he said.

The Baroni Society will hold a daylong meeting at Catholic University in which ideas will be exchanged in an effort to apply "old values and new vision" to the issues of building community strength through housing and economic development, common problems facing the world community and domestic poverty policy.

Naparstek, dean of Case-Western Reserve University's applied social services graduate school, said the society's aim is to do what Baroni did in life by "bridging the world of action in the neighborhoods with the world of policy" through the exchange of ideas about advocacy, investment strategies and public policy at all levels of government.

"Geno's legacy is still alive in so many different ways around the country with many of us really following what we've learned from him in our work," said Naparstek, who worked for the Baroni-founded National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs.

Those attending the conference will examine "innovative and change-oriented ways {and} new social inventions . . . that get at the problem of poverty and powerlessness. {The group wants to} nourish one another but more importantly come up with ideas," he said.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the society's four cochairmen, met Baroni in the late 1960s when she was a community advocate in Baltimore.

"We became friends, supporters and compatriots on the barricade," Mikulski said, a relationship that continued after she entered Congress in 1976 and Baroni was named to the HUD post. "He always had things for me to do {and} I always had things for him to do."

Mikulski said the society will help provide "new ways of meeting these goals that still exist in our communities. What we want to do is get the ideas out there to . . . neighborhood people who can take that back to their own communities {and} to people who can influence policy-makers or make policy."

John W. Hechinger, chairman of his family lumber business and a Baroni Society board member, met Baroni at the time of the devastating 1968 riots, when Baroni walked the streets of Shaw offering help and solace.

Hechinger said his friend used to tell a story of playing on a mountain of a slag heap while growing up in Acosta, a small town near Pittsburgh, and returning later in life to find "this little old pimple of a swelling behind his house."

"He used that as an example of what happens in life. When you're growing up and you have a vision there are enormous obstacles to overcome. Then you go back and you find that you've exaggerated these problems and what you thought was so frightening," Hechinger recounted.

That philosophy -- the sense that "we can lick the worst of these problems in housing and the racial tension we have," Hechinger said, is what the Baroni Society intends to carry on.