COLLEGE PARK – Ben Hyman is only 13, but he has a lot to teach local government officials about Smart Growth.
The Baltimore youth donated almost $2,500 – half of his bar mitzvah gift money – to promote and put into practice Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Smart Growth initiative, intended to combat urban sprawl and protect the environment.
“These issues are important and need to be addressed,” said Hyman, who spoke Wednesday at the announcement of the scholarship at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs.
Half the donation will finance the first two recipients of the Ben Hyman Smart Growth Scholarship, awarded to local government officials who pursue Smart Growth leadership education at the College Park campus’ National Center for Smart Growth. The center will fund the scholarship in subsequent years.
Hyman will give the balance to Bolton Hill Synagogue in Baltimore toward the congregation’s relocation costs. The synagogue, to which Hyman’s family belongs, will move to a building once occupied by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., a move that Hyman said illustrates Smart Growth principles.
“When you donate money, you want it to help something specific,” said Hyman.
Although Hyman is unsure if a political career lies in his future, he hopes to educate more students about Smart Growth by inviting government officials to speak at his school.
“I agree that from afar it doesn’t look like it’s really appealing to kids, but if you just get them to know about it, they will have it running through their minds that this is important and maybe we can do something about it,” he said.
The decision to donate money to Smart Growth was not based on advice from his parents, although they have helped him with the process.
“We’ve been talking with him about ways to stay involved with Smart Growth,” said Mark Hyman, Ben’s father. “It’s important that he follow up on that commitment.”
Hyman acknowledged one short-term effect his donation may have on his political future – “If I run for office at my school, I’ll be the only candidate who has the governor’s support.”
The scholarship’s first recipient, Kristin Smith, a Baltimore community planner from Hyman’s Mount Washington neighborhood said, “It’s encouraging that someone so young is thinking about the long-term impact that is being made on a day-to-day basis in government.”
Officials decided Hyman’s generosity would do the most good with the creation of a scholarship.
“We thought this would be a really good way to make this a lasting gift,” said John Frece, spokesman for the Office of Smart Growth. “What’s interesting is you have the younger generation giving money to educate the older generation about how to save the environment of the state for generations to come.”
“It’s extremely important that the next generation understands what’s at stake,” said Glendening. “There is great hope for the environmental movement when a 13-year-old young man says I’m willing to put half of my gift into the economy to help the programs work.”
Glendening also announced the establishment of Smart Growth Champions, a program to recognize individuals or organizations who promote Smart Growth initiatives. Hyman received a governor’s citation and was named a Smart Growth champion.