From the 2005 News Archive
Professor Barbara Bezdek to receive Public Servant of the Year Award
Professor Barbara Bezdek
has been named the University of Maryland Baltimore Public Servant of the Year. The Award will be made at the University's Founder's Week Celebration Gala, October 20th. This highly prestigious univesity-wide award is given annually to exemplary work and commitment to public service.
In addition to her teaching and scholarship at the School of Law, Professor Bezdek is a founder and chair of Faith Fund, Inc.
, a Baltimore faith-based community development financial institution that offers loans and technical assistance to develop affordable housing, small businesses, and community facilities in Baltimore's underserved communities.
The fund is a grassroots effort founded by groups from across the faith spectrum, including Catholic, Jewish, United Methodist, Islamic, and Quaker members; and also the Baltimore Regional Partnership, a coalition of citizens groups that works to improve the Baltimore area's quality of life through urban revitalization and environmental protection.
The Faith Fund received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2003 and raised the rest of its start-up money from religious groups, local foundations and individuals, notes Bezdek. She adds that as of July 2005, it had lending capital of $3.5 million and had loaned approximately $3.1 million to not-for-profit organizations.
She compares the fund's strategy to that of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in the holiday classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life." Bailey saw the importance of providing capital to his neighbors, so they could buy homes and build businesses that offer the services needed to sustain a vital community.
"Rather than saying to clients, %91We are Faith Fund, and these are the services we offer,' we ask what the borrower needs and tailor each loan package accordingly," Bezdek explains. "We value the relationship with the community. This is money to leverage other potential activities, so that people can take charge of the communities where they live."
One such example, Bezdek says, is helping not-for-profit organizations rehabilitate homes for sale or rent at prices that working people can afford decent, affordable homes help to anchor families, neighborhoods, and entrepreneurs, she adds. Other Faith Fund loans have preserved transitional housing for immigrant families, stopped the foreclosure and conversion of 74 affordable rentals in west Baltimore, and helped to build senior housing and arts and recreational centers.
Faith Fund recently assisted the Baltimore-based Sylvan Beach Foundation, which operates small businesses (an ice cream store and a café) to provide job training for disadvantaged youth. "We loaned them money and helped them restructure their current debt in a more financially secure way," Bezdek says.
The seminars and clinics that Bezdek teaches in the law school, including Economic, Housing, and Community Development Clinic; and Legal Theory and Practice, reflect her interest in providing sustainable economic opportunities. "She combines her interest in the legal foundations of social change with her flair for helpingstudents put theory into practice," says Rothenberg.
Last year, students in the Community Development Clinic performed pro bono work for a center for Latino working families that will open soon in East Baltimore. "The student attorneys handled real estate transactional matters, such as writing commercial leases and resolving zoning issues," Bezdek says.
Despite her focus on social justice, Bezdek does not see herself as an activist, but simply as an engaged citizen and scholar. "Lawyers are tremendously privileged to be decision-makers in public and private life," she says. "I believe it is our duty to use this advantage to work toward a just society."
[story by Danielle Sweeney for UMB]