Community Schools Program Spotlight: Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story

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Through our Community Schools program, GHCC collaborates with over 80 partners to bring  innovative learning opportunities into local public schools. Goucher College is one of those many dedicated partners whose Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story afterschool literacy program has been running strong for more than a decade. We recently caught up with Goucher students Jacob Webbert and Emily Timothy, who direct the program at Barclay Elementary/Middle School.

Tell us a little about yourselves?

Hi everyone, my name is Jacob and I’m a psychology major (with a pre-medical focus) at Goucher College. In addition to being a student and a Director for Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story, I also serve as the Chair of the Judicial Board for Goucher College. In the summers I work on a small farm in central Maine.

I first got involved with Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story as part of a community-based learning class that I took at Goucher my freshman year. Every semester since I continued on with the program as a volunteer.

Hi, I’m Emily, I’m a sophomore Chemistry major at Goucher College.  On campus, I’m also involved in Gophers for Goucher, a group of students who provide philanthropic support to the college, and I’m a workshop facilitator for first-year Chemistry students.

When I came to Goucher and found out about Read-a-Story/Write-a Story, I jumped on the opportunity to be a part of this program.  Throughout high school I worked a lot with younger students as a mentor, tutor, or ‘teacher’s helper’, and I knew this was something I was passionate about.  After a year of volunteering, I was excited to get the opportunity to be an assistant director this year.

How did Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story come into existence?622A6432

Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story was founded more than a decade ago by Goucher students with the help of their professors. The idea was to create a program to more closely connect the College and its students to the neighborhood that Goucher originally existed in before it moved to Towson in 1953. It has been continuously operated and run by students ever since.

What’s your favorite thing about doing the program?

One of the best things about the program that we get to see every semester is the partnerships that form between the Goucher students and the Barclay students working together. We try to maintain a 1:1 ratio between the students with the goal of being able to foster some fantastic teams who get to work, help, and have fun with each other throughout the course of the entire semester. Seeing all the smiles, hearing all the laughter and questions, and experiencing all the stories and partnerships is without a doubt our favorite thing about Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story.

What goals do you hope the students will accomplish with the program?

We strive to see improvement in literacy, both reading and writing, for all students at all skill levels. With the partnerships that Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story creates though, it is also our goal to see increases in confidence, outreach, and communication. Students have fun with each other and they grow to be more comfortable connecting, asking questions, and trying new things. At the end of the program, the tangible finished products are the fantastic books that each student creates themself.

622A6512Will you describe some of the activities in detail that the students are learning/doing?

We usually start off the program with a quick game to help work off some of the energy from the day. Then we pick and read a story together as an entire group (Dr. Seuss and the fairy tale collection remain very popular with everyone). When we finish, we break up into teams of Goucher and Barclay students who then pick their own books to read with each other.

During the semester, each Barclay student receives a blank book of their own. With their Goucher student, they work on their own story and illustrations, each week adding a little bit more. By the end of the program they have a completed book of their own that they can bring home to keep and read.

What is your favorite aspect of working with students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade?

One of the best things about this age group is their excitement, creativity, and curiosity to learn about just about anything. These qualities really lend themselves not just to building fun and strong partnerships, but also to writing some really great stories. Just this semester, a Barclay student has begun writing a story about a butterfly, a family of bears, and a school bus (we haven’t quite figured out the eventual role of the bus in the story, but it has been made clear to us that it is definitely an integral part of it). Everyone has so much fun and one of the identifying characteristics about our classroom is the echoing laughter emanating from it.

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Can you share a story or an achievement that took place in the program this year?

We had a Barclay student who, when he first started in the program, was very shy and tried to avoid reading mainly because he was a little embarrassed about his abilities. Each week though, his partner would read to him and they’d work together on a story. He loved to draw and so he would first draw his story ideas out while talking and answering questions with his partner about what he was doing. They’d then work on the letters and sentences to describe the story he was telling. A month or two into the program, he was waving us down as we were checking in with each group so that he could read aloud the new sentence that he had just completed.  These are the kinds of achievements that we love to see. They never get old.

What are the biggest lessons that you hope to instill in the young people that you work with?

The most powerful component of our program is the partnerships that are formed and fostered between students of all different ages, backgrounds, and strengths. If there is any one thing that we had to pick, it’s that community and teamwork are powerful concepts that can accomplish anything. Working together can pay large dividends and, more often than not, it’s a lot more fun.

What does the future look like for Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story?

Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story is a strong and popular program both at Barclay and at Goucher. The future of the program may shift in terms of its day-to-day activities but the core of the program and the partnerships it strives to form and create, will always remain at the heart of its mission.

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Want to support programs like Read-A-Story/Write-A-Story? Donate to GHCC so that we can continue to provide our public school students with innovative learning opportunities to which they may not otherwise have access. 

Photos taken by Christy Zuccarini. To see more, visit our Flickr page.

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Neighborhood Institute Sponsor Spotlight: Roland Park Driving School

Patrick Francis is the founder of the Roland Park Driving School, which offers a  full complement of driver education services — from classroom and on road instruction to driver improvement classes. (Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

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Tell us a little bit about Roland Park Driving School and how you came to this part of Baltimore.

I created the school in 2006 and it has grown steadily over the years.  I can attribute this success to strict attention to detail and serving clients in a responsible manner. Driving is life and death…not a game. I bring this mentality to my school, and it helps keep young drivers safe.

I was not born in Baltimore but have been living here for a long time.

What do you love most about having a business in Greater Homewood?

I enjoy being around the young people in the area.  They are full of energy and it is enjoyable to hear from them about what is “hip and exciting” these days (they keep me in the loop!).

What is your favorite route to take your students on in Baltimore City?

I usually take them down Baltimore Ave. and across the inner harbor. We then go through Little Italy, Fells Point and past Raven’s stadium.  I like turning the route into a bit of a guided tour, which the students seem to enjoy.

What prompted you to become a sponsor of GHCC?

I like to help out the community in any way that I can. To me, helping the young people in an area is absolutely vital.

What is the most interesting experience you’ve had during a driving lesson?

I was in the car with a student driving up Mt. Royal Ave. and the driver behind bumps into us. He then proceeds to try and run off! My student and I pursued and eventually caught him at a red-light. The following conversation was very interesting but eventually they admitted to hitting the car. There was no damage to the vehicle but it was very amusing (must have been quite an experience for the young driver in the car)!

Substantive information about the program:

  • The school is open seven days a week, year round.
  • The number of students per course varies but it is typically between 10-30
  • Two additional instructors have been brought on as business increased. There are now a total of three instructors.
  • Karen Stokes’ children learned at this school!
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AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Rebecca Seel

Rebecca2Rebecca Seel relocated from New York to serve as the GHCC-Sponsored VISTA at GapBuster, Inc. in Prince George’s County. Read about how opportunities she received as a teenager inspired her desire to serve teens in Maryland.

When the chance to do something great presents itself, you don’t ignore it. I don’t really believe in luck or fate, but I believe in opportunities. After I obtained my Masters Degree in journalism from Syracuse University, I found myself in a clichéd quarter-life crisis – wondering where to go and what to do with myself during a period of time of uncertainty and unfulfillment.

I became acquainted with AmeriCorps through a group of friends I met at a volunteer fair in my area. They encouraged me to apply, and by the end of that very day I had filled out the online application. I had only been to Maryland once or twice, and when I applied through Greater Homewood the only things I thought I knew about Baltimore were what I had seen on The Wire (yes, feel free to roll your eyes). But, when the opportunity for VISTA lay in front of me, I felt the call to service. VISTA was a way for me to use my skill set in the service of others.

I serve at GapBuster Incorporated in Riverdale, MD, an ambitious and expanding organization. The staff and executive director‘s excitement for their work is infectious, and I accepted the VISTA position there to be a part of a growing, youth-centric organization. After a full year of service I hope to leave behind a sustainable communications infrastructure for GapBuster, enhancing their social media and website so that the organization can continue to attract students to the program and interest throughout the community.

My favorite part of my service is the students. There are such bright minds and Rebecca1vibrant personalities here. It is inspiring to watch them find strengths within themselves and realize that a future they did not have access to before is within their grasp. To be honest, I just like sitting around and talking to them. I always laugh when they tell me that they weren’t sure about me at first because of my whiteness but that I turned out to be ‘okay.’

I never had an idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up, but it was through a wonderful Teen Apprentice program at my local museum during high school that I grew interested in nonprofits. The director of education led the program with enthusiasm, presenting fascinating activities every week. The Teen Apprentice program has since been cut, but its impact on my life is indelible; to give young people the opportunity to blossom is a keen interest of mine. Seeing a teenager become inspired, enabling youth to walk forward in life on avenues that were previously closed to them, just helping a fellow human discover a passion or learn a new thing are why I thank AmeriCorps for instilling in me a desire to serve, and serve faithfully, the people in my community and my country.

Are you interested in serving a year as a GHCC-Sponsored VISTA member? We’re recruiting now for our 2014-2015 cohort! Check out our website for information about how to apply and to see what positions are available. http://www.greaterhomewood.org/give-to-ghcc/americorpsvista/

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Neighborhood Institute Sponsor: City Church

pdonohuePatrick Donohue is the leader of City Church Presbyterian, a church planting initiative focused on building community in North Baltimore. A life long Baltimorean with a love of city living, Partick took some time talk with us about what inspires him and the work on City Church.

Tell us about your church, what are some of the best things about your community?

The church was started a year and half ago, so we are still new in the area. The main inspiration for starting the church was a great love for Baltimore and its neighborhoods. We are unique in that although we respect tradition, we also bring a new and fresh perspective to religion.

What do you love about the city and where you are located?

Baltimore is my home. Here at City Church, we love the personality and diversity of Baltimore. There is a fierce tribalism to the different neighborhoods in the city. It is a fantastic place to build a community and be surrounded by the people’s ingenuity.

Why is it important to your congregation to support the work that Greater Homewood is doing?

I was first exposed to GHCC when I wanted to find a place to volunteer. I ended up volunteering at the Barclay Youth Safe Haven which was a great experience. City Church and GHCC share conviction for improving and building vibrant neighborhoods in the Greater Homewood area.

What are some of the interesting programs that City Church has going on?

We have some new volunteer opportunities that are open to everyone in the community. In particular, we have a program for children called “City Kids.” This program features a multitude of different opportunities such as puppet shows and craft. Whatever the event is, it is our desire to make the children feel special and like they have a place in worship. An upcoming event is the City Kids Family Spring Campout. You can learn more here: http://www.citychurchbaltimore.org/.

How can someone get involved with the City Church community?    

The best ways to get involved in our community are to either come to worship session on Sunday, volunteer with us, or participate in the Kid’s Events.

Where are you located? Hours of worship?CityChurch_logo_web_21

We meet on the campus of Notre Dame of Maryland in their cathedral. We currently just have a Sunday mass that starts at 8:30am in the morning, but are looking to expand in the future.

CITY KIDS FAMILY SPRING CAMPOUT – Friday, May 16; 6:00 PM to Saturday, May 17; 10:00 AM – Enjoy the spring weather at this Family Overnight Campout at Robert E. Lee Park. We will go on a ranger-led night hike, make s’mores around a campfire, and enjoy pancakes in the morning. This event is for ages 5 and up. Bring your own tent or reserve one through Robert E. Lee Park by calling their office at 410-887-4156. This event is $5 per person and will fill up quickly. Reserve your spot at Robert E. Lee Park by calling 410-887-4156 or emailing releepark-rp@baltimorecountymd.gov

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Neighborhood Institute Sponsor Spotlight: Mahan Rykiel and Associates

Mahan Rykiel Associates is an award-winning landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm with offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Hong Kong. We recently caught up with Tom McGilloway, who works as a professional landscape architecht for Mahan Rykiel. He took some time to reflect on the work he does and how design helps create vibrant urban communities.

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Tell us a bit about your firm and what you do?

Mahan Rykiel Associates is a landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm. We have a broad portfolio of project types including parks, downtowns, transportation enhancements, retail, healthcare and campuses. My area of focus is park and campus planning and design, and downtown/neighborhood revitalization.  A particular focus of mine is working with “Main Street” communities throughout the country. Outside of the office, I was involved in the Hampden Main Street program for 8 years and continue to be actively involved with Friends of Wyman Park Dell and Friends of Stony Run.

What do you love about working in Baltimore?

I feel “connected” in Baltimore. Living and working in the city gives me the opportunity to work with organizations, both professionally and as a volunteer, that are important to the city, particularly in North Baltimore. I am fortunate to interface with great people in both the public and private sectors. Sure, there are many frustrations with life in Baltimore, but the positive outweighs the negative. There are so many passionate people in the community committed to making a difference. It is inspiring!

Why do you choose to support Greater Homewood and the Neighborhood Institute?

The main reason is that I believe GHCC is a fantastic organization that has done a lot for North Baltimore. My relationship with GHCC has been beneficial to me both professionally and as a resident of the Greater Homewood area.

Are there any projects around town that you have worked on which you are particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of Mahan Rykiel’s master plan for the Wyman Park Dell. It has served as an implementation framework for the City, Friends of Wyman Park Dell and local volunteer groups. It continues to allow partners to work together to improve this important open space. To give a little background, The Wyman Park Dell is an historic Olmsted Brothers park located next to the Baltimore Museum of Art, that has maintained its design integrity since the early 1900’s.

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The master plan has provided a guide for many completed projects including restoration of the historic stone wall, a new playground, park signage and the planting of/care for over 100 trees. The Beta Fraternity and baseball team from the Johns Hopkins University have helped us for many years with picking up trash, planting trees, removing invasive plants and other maintenance projects.  Another exciting project coming soon is a permanent outdoor ping pong table which wouldn’t be possible without the fundraising efforts and creative thinking of Ping Pong Baltimore. The master plan provides a framework for all of these positive things to happen.

What role do you think design plays in building healthy and vibrant communities?

Design allows one to thoughtfully implement creative ideas to improve a place, making it more conducive to positive activity and investment. Good design extends beyond aesthetics and, if done well and done with user groups/the community in mind, can fascilitate economic development and social interaction while being sensitive to the environment and the inherent qualities of a particular place.

Can you share an example of a great project in the area?

There are many. The investment and revitalization that is happening in Remington and neighborhoods throughtout the city continues to highlight the rich variety of places we have in Baltimore. Patterson Park continues to be a model for parks throughout the city and demonstrates the power of investing in our parks and open spaces.

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Neighborhood Institute Sponsor Spotlight: Falkenhan’s Hardware

ma09_lifelessons_falkenhanDeb Falkenhan has owned and operated Falkenhan’s Hardware in Hamden for nearly 16 years. We caught up with her to learn a little more about what she loves about the business and the history of the store.
*Photo Credit: Baltimore Style Magazine

Tell us a little bit about Falkenhan’s Hardware and how you came to this part of Baltimore.

Falkenhan’s Hardware was originally started in 1968 when my father, Frank Falkenhan, bought the building (called Mt. Vernon Hall) at 3401-03 Chestnut Ave.  The store at that time was called Benson’s Hardware, and had been Towson Hardware before that. He operated the store, along with his plumbing and real estate businesses with his sister for 20 years.  In 1988, the hardware business was sold to Ken and Earl Klock.  Thus, Klock’s Hardware was born.  In 1997 my father approached me about re-opening the store with his help.  We totally renovated the space, and I reopened the store on June 17, 1998, now going on 16 years.  As to how I came to this part of Baltimore, I was born here.  My parents lived on Chestnut Ave, then Roland Ave, and other than a 6 month stint in Philly I have been in Hampden pretty much ever since.

What do you love most about owning a business in Hampden?

There are many reasons! It is where I grew up and I know so many people in the area  by name. Its great to know that the neighborhood girl does well. Walking to and from work is great (no rush hour!) I have the opportunity to get to know my customers – new and old and there are other great business owners to discuss ideas with and get support from.  Seeing the smile on customers’ faces when they realize they don’t have to leave the neighborhood is really a treat.

Q3: What prompted you to renew your sponsorship of GHCC this year?

I believe in sponsoring local, just like I want people to shop local.  After all, I wouldn’t be in business if everyone ran to the box stores for all of their shopping.  Although I couldn’t attend the Neighborhood Institute, I think this is a great idea for people to work together for a stronger neighborhood.

What do you most appreciate about GHCC’s work as a local business owner?

GHCC does some great things.  Promoting and supporting neighborhoods is important. There are so many sections of Baltimore that are not as fortunate as the areas around GHCC, where so many people want to live.  I love the things going on at the 29th Street Community Center and can’t wait to try some of the classes there.  Also, because GHCC promotes city living, whether it is rental or homeowner, it brings me new customers who I hope will become lifelong customers.

Do you have a favorite customer-service experience you would like to share with us?

There really aren’t any favorites, but there are several that come to mind. There was the little boy who said “Mommy, I have to pee!” and he did right where he was standing in the store. Gus the yellow lab who used to come in with Bob and walk right behind the counter and sit down waiting for his treats, as well as the many people who loved CopCar, the hardware cat – some came just to see him and get their “CopCar fix”. The smiles you see when you fix an old faucet stem or have a brand new one or finding something that people haven’t been able to find. Customer service is very important in a small business and I want all customers to walk out knowing we did our best for them, whether we had what they needed or not.ls

Falkenhan’s Hardware is located at 3401 Chestnut Ave. Baltimore, MD 21211
They can be reached at 410-235-7771, open Mon -Fri 8am – 6pm and Sat 8am – 5pm

Services Provided: Key duplication, pipe cut & threaded, small lamp repairs, glass & acrylic cut, sharpening services

Supplies kept in stock: Basic hardware, electrical, painting, plumbing, houseware supplies; small wood products – i.e. 1×3,2×4,etc., seasonal items

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Life After VISTA

GHCC AmeriCorps*VISTA leaders Tom Pfeifer and Allison Wilhite  took some time to reflect on the recent Life After VISTA event that took place at City Hall on March 25th.

Despite unexpected snowy weather and challenging commutes from as far as Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, nothing could put a damper on the GHCC VISTA Cohort’s excitement as they arrived at Baltimore City Hall to learn about what “Life after VISTA” could hold for them. The afternoon event, co-hosted by GHCC, the Mayor’s Office, and Maryland/DC Campus Compact VISTA programs, kicked off with an alumni panel of former AmeriCorps members enthused to share about their career paths after service.

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Two former GHCC-sponsored VISTAs, Jimmy Stuart (2010-11 cohort) and Priya Bhayana (2011-12 cohort), contributed to the alumni panel discussion by sharing how their service terms helped them land their current jobs. For example, Jimmy explained that it was because of the network he formed while serving that he was on Child First Authority’s radar. He stressed the value of holding informational interviews, stating to the group that, “VISTAs have all of these networks and opportunities at your finger tips… spend time with people you respect and whose work interests you.” Priya offered that it’s OK to explore opportunities to find the right fit. She used her education award to briefly attend graduate school before her current position as Director of the Bromo Arts and Market Center.

Also on the panel were Liz Matthews of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Rollin Johnson, Jr. of Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Concern (and former Peace Corps volunteer), and Holly Freishtat, Food Policy Director of the City Planning Department. “AmeriCorps really launched my professional career,” Holly explained. She later gave three key pieces of advice – conduct informational interviews to build a network now and for when you have a job, find a mentor or two, and constantly update your resume.2014-03-25 14.16.50

The panel was followed by a series of workshops including resume writing, job search, and how to maximize the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award ($5,550 toward educational costs or repaying student loans). Sarah Schulman (2012-13 GHCC cohort), who was hired by Maryland New Directions after her VISTA year with them, led the workshop on resume writing and encouraged that VISTAs highlight their transferable skills gained in service and to tailor resumes to their desired job. Liz Matthews, Outreach Specialist at CNCS, offered insights on the federal hiring process. The VISTAs were thrilled to learn that their year of service counts toward federal retirement!  Furthermore, VISTAs receive a year of non-competitive eligibility status for federal employment, both big perks for those interested in a government career path. By the end of the afternoon, there was certainly a high degree of buzz among the VISTAs about the dynamic options available to them.

GHCC-sponsored AmeriCorps*VISTA members receive a solid foundation of skills they can use as a springboard for careers in government, non-profits, education, and much more. Are you interested in serving a year as a GHCC-Sponsored VISTA member? We’re recruiting now for our 2014-2015 cohort! Check out our website for information about how to apply and to see what positions are available.

http://www.greaterhomewood.org/give-to-ghcc/americorpsvista/

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Neighborhood Institute Sponsor Spotlight: CVCA

 

cvcaSandy Sparks is the president of the Charles Village Civic Association. A long time resident of the area and advocate for the community, we were excited to spend some time talking about Charles Village and Greater Homewood with her. 

Tell us a little bit about CVCA-what is it you do exactly?

The primary focus of CVCA is to promote and strengthen Charles Village. Among the chief focuses of the organization are land use and zoning issues. The CVCA has fantastic continuity, as it has been around since the late 1960’s.

How is CVCA different from the Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD)?

CVCA is very distinct! CVCBD is in many ways its own creation- they are established by state law, wheras CVCA is a neighborhood community association. The entire mission of CVCBD (Safe & Clean) differs. Besides the scope and intentions, the levels of marketing and promotion also differ.

What do you love most about being located in Greater Homewood?

There are a number of things! The diversity of the area continues to be a very appealing feature. There are many resources for improvement and opportunities to use them creatively. The area continues to improve so it is a joy to witness.

What prompted you to become a sponsor of GHCC?

I have been involved with GHCC since the 1980’s. During the 1980’s I served on the GHCC board so I am very familiar with the organization’s mission and goals.  As a homeowner you become increasingly invested in your community, and GHCC is an organization that really advocates for the area.

What is CVCA’s proudest accomplishment in years?

Among the greatest accomplishments are the “Charles Street Master Plan” and the Charles Street construction. I am also proud of CVCA’s involvement in bringing in new business’ and our continued support for local schools.

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UM Urban Studies and Planning Students visit GHCC

HoweThis is a guest post from community resident Howie Baum. A professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland College Park, Howie took some time to reflect upon the importance of GHCC’s work after a recent visit to 29th Street Community Center with his students.

I live in Rosebank Brackenridge Bellona, a North Baltimore neighborhood that is part of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation area, and I teach social planning in the University of Maryland’s Urban Studies and Planning Program in College Park. As a city resident, I am fortunate to be represented by GHCC on a variety of public issues. As a professor, I am glad that I can bring my students to GHCC to see what a strong, creative community organization looks like.

I recently took my Community Social Planning class to meet with Karen Stokes, Ira Kowler, and Hannah Gardi at the 29th Street Community Center. The students are preparing for careers in urban planning, and I wanted them to see the assets and challenges of a low income neighborhood and to understand how a community-based organization works with neighborhoods, and what the staff of the organization need to do to keep it going. Also, as I tell my students, I’d like them to fall in love with Baltimore and decide to work and live in the city after they graduate.

The students caught on to Greater Homewood. They liked the vision of holistic community development that guides the organization: the first question always is, what do residents think would be in the interests of their community? The students liked the idea of community schools. (In the 1990s I helped start a community school at Tench Tilghman Elementary in East Baltimore, and I know the idea makes great sense.) Students were impressed by not only the range of GHCC activities, but also the considerable time and energy spent involving residents in community organizations. And, the students were struck by how much effort is necessary to keep GHCC funded and to maintain and manage the organization. The fact that Greater Homewood has been around for 45 years, when many other Baltimore community organizations have died, speaks volumes. The visit showed students that there are places where they can apply their intelligence and idealism in real jobs doing the kinds of community development we discuss in class.

I think GHCC is good at doing important work. Baltimore faces all the challenges of any big city with a large low-income population, and efforts to address these problems are handicapped by a scarcity of local wealth. The city depends on outside money. However, private investment, by its nature, goes where profits can be made, and low-income neighborhoods are rarely attractive in these terms, and the federal government hasn’t had a serious urban policy in decades. Under these conditions, neighborhoods must do what they can to identify and exploit their own assets.

Greater Homewood has been doing that. Voluntary, nonprofit organizations in Baltimore are doing some of the most creative work in addressing challenges and creating a more livable city. As a resident who sometimes gets discouraged, I was uplifted to see the work of Greater Homewood. I will keep it in my students’ minds, because, selfishly, I want them to come work in our city.

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AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Michael Jefferson

Michael Staff Photo (2)Michael Jefferson is an AmeriCorps*VISTA member serving with the Youth Empowered Society (YES) in Baltimore, MD. Founded and run by formerly homeless youth and their allies, YES works to end homelessness in Baltimore by supporting currently and formerly homeless youth in becoming leaders in our community and by providing desperately needed direct services to homeless youth.

Everyone deserves to go home.

In the several years since I started volunteering in Baltimore, this simple statement has become a core principle for me and a source of tremendous inspiration. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Youth Empowered Society (YES) Drop-In Center, and as a volunteer with various nonprofits, I’ve heard hundreds of firsthand stories about the dehumanizing consequences of homelessness. Families torn apart by evictions, young women and men forced to survive on the streets after fleeing abuse at home, constant psychological oppression caused by disrespect and even hateful treatment -these experiences are tragically common for many of the folks I work with. Their stories and, more importantly, the bonds I’ve forged with my community since beginning this work has taught me that certain needs are so fundamental to a person’s life and well-being that everyone deserves them.

My journey to discover this truth started in the winter of 2009. At the time, the Great Recession was causing massive layoffs worldwide and, by chance, I started volunteering with a small grassroots group that shared food with several people who were living under the I-83 overpass in downtown Baltimore. I will always remember the night I spoke with one of the men who was living there. Sharing stories over cups of soup below the overpass, he told me that he lost his home when he was laid off during the early months of the recession. Now, with nowhere else to turn, he was forced to sleep in the dirt and the cold below the highway. The injustice of it was overwhelming and unspeakable. The visceral impact woke me up and filled me with a burning desire to become an activist in the struggle to combat homelessness and poverty.

Fortunately, the anger I felt that night is not my only source of commitment to democracy and working with my community. At the heart of it all, my work is driven by an unshakable love for people. I am endlessly inspired by the resilience and potential of the people I work with, and though painful, these stories have also allowed me to see the greatness of the human spirit. The youth who come to YES are brilliant and often full of energy and I cannot help but wonder how magnificent the world would be if circumstances permitted them to pursue their dreams. Love of people above all else has driven me to become a meaningful participant in the struggle to end poverty and its many manifestations.

I am also incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to share many beautiful aspects of my work with the broader community. The volunteers I’ve met I truly believe are some of Baltimore’s most inspiring citizens. The energy and passion they bring to the drop-in center make YES a wonderful place to be. The artistic activities that volunteers make YES a place of awesome creativity, and their educational workshops make it a place of hope and possibility. Everyone learns at YES: volunteers teach youth who in turn teach volunteers, and everyone (often without realizing it) teaches me about humankind and our infinite depth, complexities, and insatiable curiosity.

Sharing even a small piece of my story as one of many participants at YES is a pleasure. As words will forever fail to express its power, we welcome you to share a part of the action and come visit us!

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