AmeriCorpsVISTA Spotlight: Christophe Valcourt

Christophe Valcourt is a GHCC sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA serving at The St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore City to expand the scope of the financial education program to help low income residents of Baltimore realize their financial goals and create sustainable housing.

I grew up in Havre de Grace, Maryland, a small town along the Chesapeake Bay. For 17 years, I lived a relatively comfortable life there, one without much want or need. I first encountered poverty in my junior year of high school when I began volunteering at a local food pantry. My experience serving the site’s patrons opened my eyes to a new, complicated issue that I wanted to learn more about.

100_05051From 2010 to 2014, I attended Capital University in Columbus, Ohio and received a degree in sociology. Outside of my classes, I enjoyed reading the works of researchers who studied poverty in the field and recounted the stories of everyday people affected by the issue. A fascination with this line of research propelled me into a two-year project in which I studied a lower-income neighborhood in Columbus to better understand the socioeconomic issues that the area was experiencing as well as what was being done to improve living conditions there. I talked with residents at a local church, conducted focus groups at a neighborhood policing center, and conversed with small business owners.

That research experience would leave an indelible impact on me. The chance to understand neighborhood issues from the perspectives of people who experienced them was both humbling and enlightening. The stories of the individuals I spoke with formed a complicated, yet dynamic picture of human life that I wanted to continue engaging with. After college, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do for a career, but I knew that I wanted to further study poverty or urban issues in my work. The VISTA program caught my eye as it offered an opportunity to dip my feet into the nonprofit world and join organizational efforts at relieving poverty with a cohort of like-minded individuals going through the same experience as myself.

In July, I began working with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a nonprofit housing agency in north Baltimore.  I was placed in their foreclosure department to help them expand their financial education program. Learning about community development and tackling somewhat perplexing topics like housing finance have helped me better visualize the broad mission of my organization. More recently, I have gotten deeper into the program evaluation side of my position, creating surveys to help St. Ambrose track data on clients who go through their informational workshops. I am currently helping them refine their methods of assessing client needs and tracking client outcomes so that their services are adequately adjusted to the stated needs. In the future, I will help St. Ambrose run a series of in-depth workshops that will enhance their clients’ financial capability.

What I like most about AmeriCorps VISTA is the ability to take ownership of a project. Even though the position is one that involves a lot of background responsibilities, I am excited by the opportunity to help an organization expand in new directions and to envision that growth having an impact on an issue that I care deeply about.

Each year GHCC sponsors a diverse selection of AmeriCorps VISTA projects that build and strengthen vibrant urban communities throughout Baltimore City and now across Maryland. Our VISTAs develop K-12, college, and career opportunities for at-risk youth; create access to healthy options through community organizing and gardening; improve programming that empowers refugees and the homeless, and much more. Our next class of 22 VISTA volunteers will enter service on July 25, 2014, and we’re very pleased to announce the nonprofit, community, and city agencies where our incoming members will be serving. To learn about their service sites and projects, click here.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Miscellaneous, VISTA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

AmeriCorps VISTA Spotlight: Tina Olayimika

Tina Olayimika is a GHCC sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA serving at The Intersection in Baltimore City through the development and implementation of a college and career preparation program.

My name is Tina and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with The Intersection, a youth advocacy organization that empowers Baltimore youth by giving them the tools and opportunities to advocate for themselves and their communities.  While there are countless reasons I decided to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I find my own childhood to be the most compelling. Having grown up in Anacostia, a once poverty and violence stricken neighborhood in the southeast of Washington, D.C., I know what it’s like to feel as if you don’t matter.  The sting of inequity and the pain of invisibility was an all too familiar feeling.  Though there was a lot that I wanted for both myself and my neighborhood, I believe the one thing I needed was someone who cared.

Tina Blog PictureAs a VISTA with AmeriCorps, I wanted to be that someone for kids who grew up like me.  My goal was not to be a savior or a helping hand, but a partner and co-laborer.  I was drawn to GHCC VISTA because it embraces this ideology and challenges us to not only serve in a community, but to embrace it, work to understand it, and become a part of it.  I was challenged to not work for a community, but to work with it.  This concept, though simple, heightened a new awareness within me.  I could no longer think of myself as a lonely, brave soul who was coming to create change; I was now a small, but important, piece of a puzzle that was already working for change.  I began to see my community not as a detriment that I had to work against, but an asset that I was privileged to work with. This newly broadened mindset led to a year filled with growth, both personal and professional.  I made friends, formed partnerships, experienced new people, places and things.  I was encouraged, corrected and challenged (all in love of course).  Greatest of all, I was the opportunity to work alongside youth who truly care and are willing to work to make a difference in their community.  They are leaders and conquerors, doing things most people never attempt and accomplishing things that were once deemed impossible for them.  I am forever inspired and forever changed.  I went into my year of service wanting to be the one person who cared, and ended up meeting tons of people who care and who have lit within me a fire that I hope to carry with me in everything I do.

Each year GHCC sponsors a diverse selection of AmeriCorps VISTA projects that build and strengthen vibrant urban communities throughout Baltimore City and now across Maryland. Our VISTAs develop K-12, college, and career opportunities for at-risk youth; create access to healthy options through community organizing and gardening; improve programming that empowers refugees and the homeless, and much more. Our next class of 22 VISTA volunteers will enter service on July 25, 2014, and we’re very pleased to announce the nonprofit, community, and city agencies where our incoming members will be serving. To learn about their service sites and projects, click here.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Miscellaneous, VISTA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sponsor Spotlight: MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

14-MUMH-3507-29th_St_Comm_Ctr_Ad_HR

The GHCC Blog Team caught up with MedStar Union Memorial Hospital to talk about community health, the 29th Street Community Center, and hand and heart care. 

You happen to be neighbors with GHCC – our main office is located just across the street from Union Memorial – can you tell us a bit about MedStar Union Memorial Hospital’s philosophy towards community engagement?

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital recently celebrated our 160th anniversary in service to our community. Through the years, we have cared for generations of families in the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital and, as a healthcare provider, one of our roles is to be actively involved in our communities, providing information and expertise. We are involved in a number of neighborhood programs to actively support our communities.

What do you enjoy most about working in the Greater Homewood area?

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital has a long history in this community and we take our role as a healthcare community resource very seriously. Helping neighbors with health screenings, attending health fairs, creating events that provide education and expertise, and supporting community events are just some of the outreach efforts we participate in to help keep our communities and its residents healthy.

Why did MedStar Union Memorial choose to sponsor the 1st Annual Oktoberfest to support GHCC’s 29th Street Community Center?

MedStar Union Memorial established a relationship with the 29th Street Community Center and is proud to support its efforts on behalf of families in North Central Baltimore.

Can you tell us a little more about the history of MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and what you are best know for?

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital is a regional specialty and teaching hospital that has been a member of this community since 1923. It is known nationally for The Curtis National Hand Center, cardiac care and orthopaedics, and developed the first hospital-based sports medicine program in the nation. The hospital offers a comprehensive range of inpatient and outpatient services, including a diabetes and endocrine center, general surgery, oncology, thoracic surgery, and vascular surgery.

The MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital and Cleveland Clinic, the nation’s number one heart program, have recently announced that they are now working together to develop and share treatments, therapies, and clinical research opportunities to benefit all patients who reach out to us for heart care.

 

Posted in Business Spotlight | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sponsor Spotlight: The Beliveau Group

The GHCC Blog Team caught up with Tina Beliveau, owner and team leader of The Beliveau Group (and one of our preferred realtors) to discuss city living, the importance of community centers, and GHCC’s 1st Annual Oktoberfest Fundraiser at Peabody Heights Brewery! 

Beliveau

Can you tell us a bit about The Beliveau Group?

The Beliveau Group is a residential real estate team. We help people buy and sell homes throughout Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and the surrounding counties. We are a team of specialists with over 25 years of combined experience in the industry. Our motto is “Creating a First Class Real Estate Experience”. We believe that what matters most in our business is elite customer service and life-long relationships. We are in the top 1% of real estate agents, locally and nationally. We put a high value on authentic relationships with our clients and the people we talk with on a daily basis.

What do you love most about working in Baltimore?

Where to begin! As real estate professionals, we appreciate the diverse choices of neighborhoods and lifestyles in Baltimore, from the most urban downtown neighborhoods to the more suburban feeling areas with many single family homes like Roland Park. There is something for everyone here. We really enjoy knowing the nooks and crannies of the entire city and helping people discover the lesser-known options they might have never been exposed to otherwise.

Why did you choose to sponsor the 1st Annual Oktoberfest Fundraiser for the 29th Street Community Center?

Being of service in our community as much as possible is a key element of our philosophy and goals. We strive to create opportunities for our team members, our clients, and the community at large in as many ways as we possibly can. We have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Greater Homewood Community Corporation, and we really value their mission of strengthening north/central Baltimore neighborhoods. The 29th St Community Center is a natural extension of that relationship and we are thrilled to be supportive in as many ways as we can!

DSC_0040

The 1st Annual Oktoberfest Fundraiser to support the 29th Street Community Center at Peabody Heights Brewery.

From the perspective of a realtor, why are community centers important to potential home buyers?

When someone buys a home, the first and most important step is for them to sit down with us and have a detailed consultation on their home buying needs, budget and goals. During that meeting, there are certain prevalent themes that come up almost every time, and one of those is neighborhood quality. A strong community center is crucial for many people and we are excited to be able to help our clients get connected with these types of resources when they do move into their new home. We truly enjoy helping people network and get connected to resources that are helpful to them, whether it’s a community center, a babysitter, or a great contractor! We are pleased to be able to connect our clients to GHCC and the 29th Street Community Center and the programs it offers.

Have you ever utilized the 29th Street Community Center personally? Has The Beliveau Group?

We have not yet utilized the Community Center, but we plan to soon!

Buying a home in Baltimore is more affordable than you might think! GHCC’s Healthy Neighborhoods program can help by providing low-interest loans and incentives for buying and renovating homes on target blocks in north central Baltimore. To learn more about this program and opportunities to work with The Beliveau Group please contact Andre Stone at 410-261-3511 or astone@greaterhomewood.org.  

 

Posted in The 29th Street Community Center | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sponsor Spotlight: Urban Teacher Center

Our blog team caught up with Kathleen Richardson, Executive Director of Urban Teacher Center, Baltimore (UTC) to discuss the role of quality teachers and quality schools in successful neighborhood and city development.

Tell us a bit about the Urban Teacher Center (UTC), how did the organization emerge, and what do you do?

UTC is a four year teacher training program, with a 14-month “residency” in the classroom’s of one of our 36 partner schools in Baltimore City. Our trainees leave with a Masters in Special Education and either Elementary Education or Secondary Math. UTC was formed in 2010, with founding programs in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. but our national headquarters is here in Baltimore. Our first cohort of Baltimore residents just finished their 4th and final year of the program, and we are thrilled because everyone in the cohort is staying in the teaching profession. This is an exciting time for us!

Why does UTC focus on Baltimore City Schools?

Our founders and staff members all have strong connections with Baltimore. Baltimore City principals value UTC teachers because our teachers begin their professional careers with a year of experience under their belt working directly with Baltimore students. UTC teachers are trained rigorously in either elementary education or secondary math content in addition to special education, which is a great value. They come in to the classroom with a deep understanding of Baltimore City’s schools, communities, and students.

What inspired you to participate in Greater Homewood’s Neighborhood Institute?

GHCC’s programming is embedded in schools. Work like theirs, and ours, creates value in the community. Our teachers are not only trained in instructional content, but also how to work in the communities where they are placed. The Neighborhood Institute was a good networking and training opportunity for the community as a whole. Every workshop topic was not just talked about, but was acted on.

What role do you think education and healthy schools play in building strong neighborhoods?

I believe education and healthy schools play the most important role in building strong neighborhoods. We train our teachers to integrate their work into the community. They cannot “shut their doors” at the end of the school day. Our teachers spend a great deal of their time participating in their communities.

What do you love about Baltimore?

The success of Baltimore’s schools is so important for the continued success of the city. Personally, Baltimore is my home, it’s where I work, it’s where I send my son to school – I am invested in Baltimore.

Photo Credit: Chris Wade,  Pinterest

UTC’s 2013 Cohort. Photo Credit: Chris Wade, Pinterest

 

Many thanks to Kathleen and Urban Teacher Center for supporting GHCC’s 2014 Neighborhood Institute – the 2015 Neighborhood Institute will be on April 18, 2015 at the Baltimore Design School – registration will open soon, so keep your eyes peeled! 

Posted in Supporter Stories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community Center awarded for innovation

Hannah with CDN Award

Each year, the Community Development Network of Maryland (CDN) honors organizations around the state engaging in extraordinary community development work. CDN Awards of Excellence highlight organizations that make great social and economic impact in their work every day. GHCC is pleased to announce that our 29th Street Community Center won the CDN Innovation Award for its non-conventional and innovative approach to problem solving.

The 29th Street Community Center grew out of a hugely collaborative effort to build community at the intersection of several diverse neighborhoods. Today, the Center is a vehicle for community building that attracts middle-income families and provides a safe haven for low-income youth. Since re-opening last year, more than 1,000 residents have enrolled in free and low-cost programming, much of which is community led.

Posted in The 29th Street Community Center | Tagged | Leave a comment

Planting Seeds of Progress

By Lottie Sneed

thanksI took a family – mother and daughter to apply for a housing programs that assists with stabilizing structures, addressing heating issues.  They were referred to me by one of our volunteers.  When I picked them up this morning, they had a piece of birthday cake (the mom had a birthday on yesterday) and a card.  It was a Christmas Card addressed to “community person”.  I even got hugs.

 

celebrationHere is a group of youth and leaders that I worked with on a successful campaign to build a recreation center in Darley Park.  Ground was broken on the 2nd phase-  a gym this past Saturday.  These young people knocked on doors, proposed designs, and went off to careers and college.  The photo includes a college grad and two others still engaged in volunteering in their community.

 

We plant seeds; we are not always present for the harvest.  Be inspired!

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

This is what community building looks like

When local leaders and elected officials gathered to kick-off Community Development Week at GHCC’s 29th Street Community Center on October 20, what they witnessed was community building in action. Delegates Maggie McIntosh and Mary Washington were among the group that toured the Center and met many of the young families who come every week to participate in a Sing-Along Playgroup for babies and toddlers.

“I think the center means a lot for young families and I hope all of them stay in the city because of it,” said Odette Ramos, who coordinates the playgroup as well as leads the Community Development Network of Maryland.

The event received some fantastic coverage in The Baltimore Sun, citing the 29th Street Community Center as an excellent example of how GHCC successfully strengthens neighborhoods. Take a look:

‘Not just buildings': Center helps develop community

bal-bs-bz-p3-development-week-f-20141020

It looked like a fairly standard play group: a man playing guitar, scattered toys, toddlers yanking purposefully on adult fingers and clothes. But community leaders and public officials gathered Monday at the 29th Street Community Center to show off something else that’s happening: the strengthening of a neighborhood. Read the full article here.

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.

Posted in Community Development, The 29th Street Community Center | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

NARSAAH Conference: Informing and Empowering Resident Leadership

Miss Pat with guest speaker_authorThe National Alliance of Resident Services in Affordable and Assisted Housing (NARSAAH) held its annual conference this year in Atlanta.  Thanks to the generosity of the Baltimore Community Foundation, we were able to have the Barclay Community Builder and a resident of North Barclay Green attend.  The conference convenes residents, managers, members of resident councils and commissioners for three intense days of workshops and networking.

 

This year there were attendees from all parts of the country, including California.  All share a common goal to maintain affordable housing and a decent quality of life.  Narsaah banquetThere were workshops on leadership, national and local policy, and great speakers including Marilyn Melkonian who leads the Telesis redevelopment currently underway in Barclay.  We are excited about implementing some of the new ideas.  Last year, the idea of a women’s empowerment conference came out of the NARSAAH conference and was successfully implemented this past July.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Homewood Gardners Celebrate a Great Year

Desktop3Started in 2011, Homewood Gardens is a collaborative effort led by community members, GHCC staff, and local stakeholders. This year, the group decided on a new arrangement. In addition to adopted beds, they added common beds that contained the “likes” of Barclay residents: okra, fresh herbs, sweet potatoes and a variety of tomatoes. Common beds are harvested on garden work days and shared with all. This unique approach to gardening led to the Homewood Gardens’ designation as a finalist for best vegetable garden at the annual Charm City Farm and Garden Supper on August 18th. While we did not win, we received an honorable mention for “notable breath of community involvement along with creatively tended plots”. Hats off to Greg Hartzler-Miller for his kale winning a blue ribbon!

Posted in Community Development | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment