SEPT. 5 was a glorious day in Baltimore. It was the first day of
school for 43-year-old Anita Inabinette.
Inabinette, a single mother of three, is a freshman at Baltimore
City Community College. She plans to earn her associate's degree
in two years. "Then I might go for my bachelor's," she says. A
year ago she didn't even have a high school diploma.
In August 1994 Inabinette walked into a row house on North
Calvert Street--the one with the sign that says THE RIPKEN
LEARNING CENTER--and inquired about taking classes to prepare
her for the GED test. "It took me 26 years to go back to
school," she says. "I had the fear that I wasn't going to be
able to keep up."
Her teachers were encouraging. Her children, ages eight, nine
and 15, helped with homework. "In six months my reading level
jumped four grades," Inabinette says. "By the time I was done, I
was reading at a 12th-grade level." Last April, Inabinette
earned her diploma.
Sept. 5 was a glorious day in Baltimore. Shortstop Cal Ripken
Jr. was in the Orioles' lineup for his 2,130th consecutive game,
tying Lou Gehrig's major league record.
"He has really done something wonderful," says Inabinette. She
is not speaking about the Streak. She is referring to the Ripken
Learning Center, established in 1990 thanks to a sizable
donation from the shortstop-philanthropist.
Ripken's story is not merely Local Boy Makes Good. It is also
Local Boy Does Good. Giving back to his community is important
to Ripken, who grew up in nearby Aberdeen, and to his wife,
Kelly, who was raised in Cockeysville, Md. "We always wanted to
do what we could to make it a better place," Ripken says. They
took a big step in that direction in 1989, the year after Mayor
Kurt Schmoke chose the phrase "The City That Reads" as
Baltimore's official slogan. The Ripkens gave the city $250,000
to establish an adult literacy center.
This fall there will be more than 100 adults enrolled at the
learning center, which is staffed by Baltimore Reads, a
nonprofit literacy organization. "Most of the students are
welfare recipients," says David Berney, the center's director.
"They come in for basic skills classes. The goal for most of the
learners is to pass the GED test and get jobs."
In 1992 the Ripkens expanded their community service involvement
by creating their own charity organization, the Kelly and Cal
Ripken Jr. Foundation. Nearly all of Ripken's endorsement
income--estimated at $3.5 million this year because of the
Streak--goes to the foundation.
Through their charity organization the Ripkens have donated
time, money and tickets to a variety of causes, the list as
diverse as it is long. The Johns Hopkins Children's Center, the
Baltimore School for the Arts, the South Baltimore Station
homeless program, the Baltimore City Foster Care Program and
Baltimore Reads are just a few.
But Ripken's generosity extends beyond these charities. Usually
at least once every home stand, after batting practice, he meets
with a seriously ill child. "He doesn't just sign an autograph
and walk away," says Julie Wagner, the Orioles' director of
community relations. "He shoots the breeze, he asks them
questions, he goofs around."
It is the quiet acts, though, such as a clandestine visit to
the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, that best capture the
spirit of Ripken's good deeds. In the off-season he frequently
visits places like the center unannounced, usually before or
after visiting hours. "He doesn't do this for public relations,"
says Ira Rainess, general counsel for The Tufton Group, the
marketing firm that handles Ripken's public relations as well as
the charity foundation. Testimonials can be heard across the
city from nurses and doctors who gush at the mention of his
name, from those who arrived at the learning center with little
confidence and left with much.
"I've never been to a baseball game," says 41-year-old Deborah
Colbert, Ripken Learning Center class of '93. "And I never got
to meet him personally, but when I see him on TV, I smile and I
say, 'That's the man!' Cal Ripken made it possible for me to get
my diploma, so I have a lot of gratitude.
"He's not just a ballplayer. He went beyond the ballpark to see
where the people are. Sometimes people don't forget where they
came from. He has reached down and pulled so many people up."
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Berney (top) and the Ripken Center staff are working for Cal's cause. [David Berney and staff of The Ripken Learning Center]