Monday, October 20, 2008

Charlie Copeland and the Challenge Program

Charlie Copeland has campaigned hard on his claim that he started or founded the Challenge Program, which teaches construction skills to at-risk youth. He has said so in his campaign material and repeated the claim as recently as last night in a television advertisement. The assertion is found on his campaign website:
In the late 1990s, Charlie co-founded the non-profit Challenge Program to provide vocational job training to at-risk youth in New Castle County. In the 13 years since the program has been in existence, dozens of disadvantaged youth have learned tangible job skills that are benefitting [sic] them as they go through life.
Copeland's Wikipedia entry, which reads rather like his campaign bio, repeats the assertion:
In 1997, 5 years before first deciding to run for public office, Charlie co-founded the Challenge Program, a Wilmington-based vocational-training program for at-risk youth in the city.
The program's website tells a somewhat different story:
The Challenge Program originated by offering small craft workshops to at-risk youth in 1995. Since then over 700 students have built and learned to paddle small boats at our Wilmington boat shop. Once a part of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, the Challenge Program obtained a separate 501(c)3 designation and a dedicated board of directors in 1999.
While it is true that he serves as the president of the board, the program had already been running for two years at the time Copeland claims to have founded it.
But I don’t have to refer to a couple of websites to refute his claim. I am personally familiar with the creation of the Challenge Program, which was founded in the 1990s by a good friend, and then Winterthur wood conservator, Mike Podmaniczky. I was working in city government at the time, and Mike came to me for advice on how to get started. The program was initially called The Challenge at Fort Christina, and was absorbed into the Kalmar Nyckel organization within a year or so before being once again spun off as a separate non-profit. A master craftsman was brought in to teach boat building as a way to develop carpentry skills.
I am pleased to see that the program has continued with Mike’s original vision of involving city youth in developing the craft of woodworking. They do stunning work, in contrast to the more usual practice of training folks to hang sheetrock.
Charlie Copeland can be commended for supporting the program and serving as board president. That’s what wealthy people should do in our society. But my friend Mike, who is still listed as a board member, deserves the credit as the true founder of the Challenge Program. Even the original logo, the sketch of a wooden boat frame, dates back to his creation of the program.
Charlie Copeland has made his role in the program a centerpiece of his campaign, particularly in the City of Wilmington. If Copeland said he simply led the program, I would not give the matter any thought. But his claim to have founded the Challenge Program doesn’t hold water.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ruh roh, Tom did some good work here.

12:01 AM, October 21, 2008  

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