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The Nose

Fallen Angel

Posted 2/23/2000

Even lefties need money. Just ask the two full-time staffers at the Baltimore Action for Justice in the Americas (BAJA), which has just been hit hard in its nonprofit pocket.The Waverly-based activist group needs about $65,000 per year to run a "friendship city" program in the civil war-ravaged village of El Bario in El Salvador and continue its outreach work in Baltimore with the local Latino community. Last year, BAJA relied on the largess of one anonymous donor to fund $50,000 worth of activities, up from the $30,000-$35,000 annual contribution to which it had become accustomed from its angel. But now the donor is sick and needs to spend most of her money on medical care.

"We've been very fortunate for years," says Jodie Zisow, co-coordinator for the group, which started in 1979 as the Central America Solidarity Committee. "[The donor] is going to help us out with a couple thousand [dollars] while we do some fund-raising."

The contributor's gifts, which stretch back to 1987, have afforded Zisow and fellow co-coordinator Leslie Bilchick a luxury most small nonprofit groups covet: the ability to focus most of their daily efforts on the work at hand instead of on shaking people down for money. "It's also allowed us to have paid staff, which is rare for a solidarity group," Zisow adds.

A typical day at BAJA's offices might feature the coordinators calling their core of 100 volunteers to line up support on Latino justice issues, or organizing help for the 69 students BAJA sponsors in El Bario, or putting together college-campus campaigns for a living wage or against Third World sweatshops. Zisow and Bilchick also stage BAJA's monthly speaker series, which in recent months has included talks on everything from angry Oregon farm workers to experts on Cuba and Colombia. "We do a lot of stuff that's one-of-a-kind in Baltimore," Zisow says.

Now BAJA has to face the same pressures as most grass-roots groups, but Zisow says it's prepared. She and Bilchick have initiated a system that withdraws donations automatically from contributors' bank accounts. They're training members of BAJA's steering committee to give presentations to potential donors, and phone-a-thons are in the works. They've also enlisted the help of professional grants writers. "We're looking for some help from foundations for our friendship city program," Zisow says. "Once people see all we do, I think we'll get what we need."

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