Anyone who has lived in Baltimore’s inner, inner city for as long as I have knows that we do not have a deficit of talent among the young people in our community.  Rather, they face a very real deficit of opportunity.

Elijah Cummings (Courtesy Photo/Facebook)

Surrounded by all of the discouraging aspects of generational poverty and our society’s unresolved issues of race, even the most talented and determined among our young can become discouraged and lose their way.

This is why effective, community-based programs that believe in our talented young people, encourage them, and help them move toward fulfilling their dreams are so important.

I was reminded of these truths again last month when I joined University of Maryland, Baltimore President Jay Perman, Dr. Sanya Springfield, Dr. Robin Saunders, university mentors and community members to begin the second year of the University’s CURE-Scholars initiative.

With financial assistance from the National Cancer Institute, UMB CURE has entered into an ongoing partnership with three West Baltimore schools to identify promising students at the middle school level and prepare them for careers in health care and scientific research.

The clear focus of the federal funding is to expand minority participation in the battle against cancer, supporting the creation of a pipeline of talent from middle school through university graduation.

Nevertheless, the CURE program is providing skill development for our young people that will be applicable to any of the science, technology, engineering or math fields.

The academic results for the students’ performance during the first year of CURE are very encouraging.  Testing has confirmed a combined 61-83 percent improvement overall in language arts scores and a 56-100 percent improvement in math scores.

Equally convincing, in listening to the students, I was struck by their growing confidence that, if they worked hard, their abilities would be acknowledged and rewarded by our society.

Their vision of the future that they could build for themselves has expanded — an evaluation shared by everyone participating in lifting up these young people to be all that God meant for them to become.

The support for CURE from the students’ parents, as well as from the three participating Baltimore schools (Franklin Square Elementary & Middle School, Green Street Academy, and Southwest Baltimore Charter School) remains strong.  Nearly all of the university students and staff who have been volunteering as mentors are continuing for a second year.

Taken together, these initial results support the insight that I mentioned at the outset.  Clearly, we do not have a deficit of talent among the young people in our community.

The National Cancer Institute agrees.  It has renewed its funding commitment to Baltimore-CURE for another five years.

Each year, the number of young scholars in this Baltimore-CURE pipeline to excellence will grow, receiving the benefits of a 5:1 mentor to scholar ratio with after-school support, Saturday tutoring and an intensive, six-week Summer Enrichment component.

The wider challenge for Baltimore — and America — is this.  How do we extend this same level of encouragement and support to every child who, otherwise, might be lost to poverty and despair?

Part of the answer to this broader question, of course, is funding.  That is why elections and the people we elect are so important.

Still, I am convinced that equally essential elements in CURE’s success are the people who are volunteering their time and talents.  They have been giving the opportunity to make a difference in these children’s lives, and they have grasped it.

The parents and schools who are partnering in CURE have found a village to help them raise these children, and that village is succeeding.

Now, whether we live in highly urbanized areas like Baltimore or rural communities that suffer from the same legacy of generational poverty, we must look to community-based initiatives like CURE for guidance as to how each of us can contribute to building a better future.

The CURE partnership is creating future doctors and scientists.  Yet, the same model can also be utilized to encourage and support future carpenters, electricians and automobile mechanics — all skills that deserve and earn a living wage.

We know that many skilled and semi-skilled jobs in our nation are going unfilled — even while far too many Americans are yearning for work that will offer them a wage that can support their families.

Our challenge — both as a community and as a nation — is to bridge these gaps.

We all have the ability to make a difference in a child’s life.  As Dr. James P. Comer of Yale has long argued, if we are to successfully overcome the obstacles presented by generational pockets of extreme poverty in our communities, we cannot expect our schools to do it all.

Effective community-based programs that draw upon the skills and generosity of spirit of our people are essential if we are to overcome the opportunity deficits that far too many Americans continue to face.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.