EASTON — The lieutenant governor of Maryland toured the campus of Easton-based Building African-American Minds (BAAM) on Friday, which kicked off its fundraising campaign for the opening of a tuition-free private school in Easton.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford visited the grounds and was joined by BAAM founders Dina and Derek Daly, as well as students from the organization’s after-school enrichment and tutoring program.

Also attending the event were Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Mid-Shore, Talbot County Council President Chuck Callahan and Easton Mayor Robert Willey.

Rutherford spoke to BAAM students in the organization’s athletic center, which opened in 2019 as a space for children and members to gather, play and connect.

It was the lieutenant governor’s first visit to the facility since it fully opened.

Rutherford spoke to the students about the challenges of the past year-and-a-half during the pandemic, as well as the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. He also encouraged students to stay in the BAAM program, to engage themselves at school and in the community, and to look ahead.

“We’re preparing everyday for a future that you cannot really imagine,” he said. “You’re building skill sets that at some point in the future, you’re going to be able to utilize.”

BAAM was formed by the Dalys — who are married — in 2005. The organization now serves 40 to 60 students in elementary school, which recently launched a new program for middle-school children. More than 700 residents have enrolled as members in its athletic gym and facility.

BAAM also plans to roll out an after-school program for elementary and middle-school girls later this year.

BAAM Board President Bill Ryan spoke about future initiatives from the organization, including renovating a soccer field, creating workforce housing off Port Street, and converting the old and historic Mount Pisgah Church into a community kitchen and hub.

“This is how we work. We listen to what the community needs. We’re not afraid to take chances,” said Ryan. “This is our whole community — BAAM is the centerpiece and its backstop. We use BAAM as a platform to bring everybody in.”

BAAM’s largest project is Polaris Village Academy, a tuition-free school.

The group needs to raise $5.4 million for the new school, and is at 67% of the fundraising goal. BAAM is now encouraging donations on its website, which is seeing a good start.

“It shows the commitment of our elected officials to what we’re doing here,” Daly said. She was also excited to hear the speech to her students. “It was really important because he got to talk to the kids about what’s real and going on right now with COVID.”

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