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


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.

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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.

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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!

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A fond farewell to Allison Wilhite

In this week’s VISTA spotlight blog, we want to highlight Allison Wilhite who recently exited service after three years as a GHCC VISTA, including two years as our VISTA Leader.  Allison has been an invaluable part of our team and we are sad to see her go, so we thought it appropriate to ask her to reflect on her service and share her sentiments as she moves on to the next phase of her life.  Allison, GHCC wishes you all the best, and thanks you for everything you have done for us and for Baltimore!

Fullscreen capture 8252014 122651 PM.bmpI’ve lived and served in Baltimore with GHCC’s VISTA Program for three years, and it’s hard to believe this chapter of my life is now coming to an end. As I packed my Charles Village row home into the trunk of my car, I found the typed notes from my “Autobiographical Sketch” reflection during VISTA orientation in August 2011. The sketch is a brief oral presentation that answers the following three questions:

Who am I? Where am I coming from? What brought me to VISTA? I repeated this reflection activity several times as a VISTA Leader and have a script nearly memorized. However, my original responses to those three simple questions reminded me of some of the details I’ve forgotten, the details of why I chose to serve.

I grew up in East County San Diego where coyotes, canyons, and cacti are more prevalent than surfboards and sand. My brothers and I attended public schools, but when my family moved to a new home, I transferred to the local Catholic school in the 3rd grade. Although we were all raised in the church, I believe it was my Catholic-based education that set me on a different path from my brothers.

Service was a core value at each school I attended, including Stonehill College where I graduated with a degree in international studies and political science. It was at Stonehill I learned about Catholic Social Teaching and how it is put into action through living simply and in solidarity with the poor. I immersed myself in this concept through alternative spring breaks and my studies on social justice. During the fall semester of senior year, I interned in Washington, DC through a program focused on the UN Development Goals. My professor stressed that development, whether internationally or domestically, will only come through building relationships and organizing for change. His insights resonated with me and changed my post-graduate plans substantially from pursuing a law degree to learning community organizing.

I intentionally sought an AmeriCorps*VISTA position after college because the mission connected my spiritual and intellectual goals to live in solidarity with the poor and improve economic opportunities with them, not for them. The Charles Village Community Benefits District was seeking a community organizer to recruit and train block captains, and GHCC sponsored the position and provided my training. Baltimore and city living were a definite culture shock from my San Diego upbringing, but GHCC and my VISTA cohort were an incredible support system. Furthermore, the residents of Old Goucher, Harwood, and Charles Village I served with inspired me with their vision for the community and challenged me to work hard to help them accomplish it. I decided to continue as a VISTA Leader at GHCC to welcome other volunteers to Charm City, my new home away from home.

In a nutshell that is my “Autobiographical Sketch.” But, where am I going now? That is still to be determined. I’m waiting on an invitation from the Peace Corps to continue my service journey abroad. Wherever life takes me next, I’m grateful to GHCC and the Charles Village community for providing a home to this California transplant these past three years. VISTA and this city taught me the importance of perseverance, taking action to create change, and relationships – especially friendships. I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned with me, and look forward to returning soon!

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Women’s Empowerment Conference comes to Barclay


On July 24, GHCC and AHC Baltimore held the first Women’s Empowerment Conference.  While the targeted audience was young adult women between the ages of 18 and 35, the event quickly evolved to include elders.  Keynote speaker Dr. Pamela Love, challenged the women to confront life challenges with the help of each other and emphasized that seeking support is not a sign of weakness.

Other speakers, local leaders, and residents participated in sessions on money management, co-parenting, self-esteem, and domestic violence.  There were 27 women in attendance and 18 children.  The response was extremely positive and already there are inquiries regarding the next conference.

Special thanks to Dallas Nicholas Sr. Elementary School for hosting the conference, all of the businesses that provided in-kind support, and the numerous volunteers who helped make this event happen!

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AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Tom Pfeifer

561440_2995395563847_1260786681_nGHCC thanks Tom Pfeifer, VISTA Leader, for his year of service to our program. Read below for his recap of what brought him to serve and how he has grown personally and professionally through volunteering.

My entire childhood I grew up in Montgomery County, MD. To sum it up, I was raised in financial comfort in an exceptionally privileged area of the state. This is not to say that my childhood and teen years were all peaches and cream (because boy were they a struggle at times), but I never had to experience crime, drugs, poverty or any other manifestation of a struggling area. Of course, I did not know anything different growing up. It was not until later in life I realized my upbringing was closer to the exception than the rule, and I developed a desire to discover how my fellow Americans lived.

I think an unconscious need to break out of my sheltered upbringing planted the seeds for my interest in the AmeriCorps VISTA program. After college I was back and forth attending graduate school full-time and working retail/sales jobs to make ends meet. Extremely unfulfilling! Meanwhile my younger brother was volunteering with the Peace Corps to do HIV/AIDS outreach in Tanzania. Inspired by his adventures in East Africa and excited for the prospect of acting in service to others (instead of just toward a sales quota), I embarked upon a VISTA term in Baton Rouge, LA. After a successful year of service in the Deep South, I knew I wanted to leverage my new skills and knowledge. VISTA Leader would give me the opportunity to work on my own professional skills, while utilizing my acquired insights to help other VISTA members have a successful year of service.

My VISTA Leader year at GHCC ended up providing me these opportunities and much more. My year of service forced me outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. There were certainly challenging times adjusting to the role of VISTA Leader and GHCC’s work culture, but I believe I was consistently able to rise to the occasion to the best of my ability. In particular, presentations and public speaking have always been my bane, and facilitating monthly Professional Development Meetings for the VISTAs was no easy feat for me. However, while I doubt I will ever be an Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama, I grew more confident as the year went on and am proud of what I accomplished.537313_2995374363317_76433113_n

Challenges, successes, and my personal and professional growth aside, I will always remember this year fondly, predominately because of the amazing people I was able to meet. GHCC really feels like a family, and you can tell that the people around you care. Then there was this VISTA class…a truly awesome and unique bunch of personalities.  I may be moving halfway around the world after my term ends, but I hope to keep in touch with this great group of people. Seriously people, keep in touch!

We will miss you, Tom!

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AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Toney Dixon

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As the Affordable Care Act Outreach Coordinator for Charm City Clinic, Toney Dixon is helping connect underserved and low-income Baltimore city residents with healthcare options and information.

Hey friends, good day! My name is Toney and I have lived in Baltimore for about 14 years or so—I was born in Alleghany County, MD but also lived in Chicago, IL for 2-3 years as well. Both of my parents are from Baltimore and I have sisters that live here as well.

Concerning my AmeriCorps *VISTA experience, I was more of a realist when it came down to choosing to serve: I was 24-years of age and about to graduate from baccalaureate studiesfrom Morgan State University—and needed to obtain gainful employment. I was not sure, at the time, of what I wanted to do, but I was absolutely certain of what I did not want to do! Prior to AmeriCorps service, I worked as a tutor in the Baltimore City Public School system, as a law intern at an entertainment law firm, and as an intern at the Democratic Party Headquarters in Annapolis, MD. These experiences provided great skills and mostly positive experiences, but did not fulfill me. Therefore as graduation was approaching, I made sure to target only opportunities that would nurture the seed in my heart for passionate work—work that would bring me closer to the heart of humanity and their deepest struggles.

I actually did not intend to volunteer for *VISTA: in the catalog of the job fair that I attended, it was an AmeriCorps NCCC representative that was to be present. They were not, but my carefully prepared cover letter and 100% cotton, natural royal fiber #28 resume` paper did not go to waste! I met a former *VISTA and a RPCV who introduced me to his former program. I was excited about the work that *VISTAs performed because I wanted to serve my country, I wanted to be part of a coterie of heart-first people, and I also saw *VISTA as an opportunity to leave the potential career path that I was heading towards.

In July 2013 I was placed at Charm City Clinic, a healthcare access clinic located in East Baltimore. My prior knowledge base of government and politics were practical advantages for the clinic. But more central was my ability to connect with the heart of a person, and to provide compassion and health-related solutions to the East Baltimore residents’ respective situations.20140711_115049

During my *VISTA year, I have been challenged beyond the limits that I thought previously existed. I manage the cases of 50+ clients in the clinic, and also serve as team leader for around 5 case managers who also manage clients. Through this, I developed a system to sustain the entire cadre of case managers and provided a medium to meet, discuss and sustain/increase volunteer motivation.  I have had wonderful experiences meeting folks from all walks of life, and have had my perspective—my personal horizons—extended. I am so grateful to the program through the work and the struggle, and I am beyond amazed by the transformation that has occurred in me and my community served. The capacity that I helped to build will provide the infrastructure for Charm City Clinic to exist in years to come. I am so thankful for this experience.

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Sponsor Spotlight: Joe’s Bike Shop

JoesBikeShopOur blog team caught up with Joe Traill, owner of Joe’s Bike Shop, to hear a bit about what he loves about North Baltimore, and cycling in the city.

Tell us a bit about Joe’s Bike shop and the products and services your offer?

We are a typical neighborhood bike shop, with bicycles for the whole family and a full repair shop.

Why did you choose to sponsor Greater Homewood this spring?

I am very drawn to the Greater Homewood area. I go through this area when I ride between the Mt. Washington and Fells Point Shops, our two locations. When you see a neighborhood from a bicycle seat you get a superb feel for what is going on. This area has such tremendous potential, but may need a little help in certain areas. I would like to be a part of that.

What’s your favorite bike trail in North-Central Baltimore?

The Jones Falls Trail is my favorite. I think it does a fantastic job of connecting the city.

What do you like most about being located in North Baltimore?

There are so many positive aspects about our locations, but I would have to answer; the support we get from the city. There is a special sense of loyalty in Baltimore for local shops and businesses. You can really feel that people care about your continued success and welfare.

What do you like most about the cycling community?

Their dedication. It is truly inspiring to see the work the community does to make cycling better for everyone. To me, this makes the city just that much for livable for all of its residents.

Location, hours of operation, specializations 

Locations in Mt. Washington and Fells Point. Open Monday through Friday 10AM-8PM, Saturday 10AM-6PM, Sunday, 12PM-5PM.

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AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Angela Mack

Angela Mack is a GHCC sponsored AmeriCorps*VISTA serving at The Magic Johnson Community Empowerment Center in Bladensburg, MD.

angelamackI was born and raised in Washington, DC and educated in the Montgomery County, Maryland school system, where my Mom was a teacher. Education was always very important in my family and community, and I took it very seriously. Gratefully, I was an excellent student and have always loved to read and to learn in every academic and professional area. This was a huge part of what drew me to my VISTA assignment to develop a literacy program in a community where children struggle greatly with socio-economic success that begins with educational deficits.

After high school I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems Engineering at Howard University in DC. I worked in corporate IT for 7 years. During the latter years I worked as an IT and professional soft skills trainer. I fell in love with education, training and working with people instead of machines. I moved on to work for the next 10 years at George Washington University as a Director of Technology Education, where I also obtained a Master of Arts in Educational Administration. After moving on to a government contract as a relationship manager for a few years, I was laid off and for the first time since I was 15 years old I was unemployed. While looking for work I began to expand my community service efforts until I was volunteering full-time. I became committed to using all of the gifts, talents, and skills that I’ve developed throughout my lifetime to serve others.

The VISTA opportunity came to me via email. The “job” description was ideal for me although initially I didn’t realize it was a stipend-based position. The more I found out about VISTA, the more I knew that this opportunity was a Godsend. I was especially impressed with the knowledge, experience, and passion of my site supervisor, Sonia Keiner. Her passion for community, sustainable agriculture, food & art, and so much more were impressive, and I was excited to be her student and mentee while serving as a VISTA.

My one concern about being a VISTA was my age. VISTA seemed to be an opportunity suited for students exiting college and considering graduate school or their career. As a 45 year old woman with two school aged children who is fully obligated to provide support for my home and family, I was afraid the commitment would not be a fit for me. I knew if I committed, I would not quit. But I thought the consequences might become too much to bear. I had to consider foremost the impact on my children. I am glad that I did not let my fear deter me from my VISTA assignment. There have been some tough financial times; but I believe that I am supposed to do everything I’ve done to serve as a VISTA. In return for serving with a grateful heart, God has provided for all of me and my families needs throughout the year.

During my year of service, I’ve assisted with developing a literacy program, recruiting and orienting families and students for the program, recruiting and training volunteers, and creating documentation so that the program could be sustainable once my service year ends. Much of what I already learned was applied to these efforts and the results were pleasing for me as well as for my site supervisor and the success of the program. I also learned a great deal about non-profit organizations and community engagement. Our biggest challenge was obtaining volunteer commitments. I love a challenge and learned a great deal about why this is an issue for many programs. I also learned about many ways to overcome this challenge over the life of the program. We began the program with only 1% of our goal for volunteer recruiting met. We ended the program at 85% of our goal!

The most rewarding parts of this year have been my connection to the community. I immediately fell in love and developed a connection with my site supervisor, families and students of the program, and many other community members. Experiencing living at the poverty level for the first time in my life had a huge impact and drew me even closer to the understanding the needs of the community. I feel that I’ve become a part of the community and will continue to serve in this or in other similar marginalized communities. The knowledge I’ve gained has helped me to decide what I will do in the next phase of my life to make a difference in communities in need.

“In all that I do my goal is to uplift, empower & equip communities in the creation & expansion of opportunities for themselves and others.” – Me

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.

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Waverly Elementary/Middle Arts Program is a Huge Success!


On June 8th, students from Waverly Elementary/Middle School gathered with their families, community members, and local artists at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation for a special gallery exhibit and art auction.

This past winter, Anne Stick, a tutor at Waverly, was attending a Parent Teacher Organization meeting when she was inspired by a group of students who came to advocate for themselves. “The students stood up at the meeting and asked for art classes” she recalled, and they were told that would only be possible if there were volunteers to run it and donations to provide the supplies. That’s when Anne and GHCC’s Community School Site Coordinator, Christine Garrett, jumped into action.

Anne, who is an artist herself specializing in print making, was excited about the ideaIMG_0555 of bringing her passion for art to her neighborhood school, and recruited a cadre of volunteers from her church, The Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, to staff the program and support it financially. Christine went to work to ensure that all the program management was taken care of; liaising with school administration, running a volunteer training, and working with Anne on the program development. Together they created a full semester long after school arts program for Waverly middle school students.

The program consisted of four different themes: print making, ceramics, computer graphics, and paper mache. Anne developed the curriculum and Utrecht Arts store generously donated supplies for the classes. Wanting to give the students a sense of the impact art can have on their own community, Anne recruited four local artists, Sam Christian Homes, Kylis Winborne, Ursala Minervini, and Greg Otto (a Waverly alum), to be guest teachers.

The program was a huge success, and though it was created for middle schoolers, it ended up welcoming a number of little siblings from the elementary school as well. The class met biweekly during the 8 week spring session and enrolled 23 students. Next year, Ann and Christine plan to expand the program to offer multiple classes for both middle and elementary school students.

IMG_0556The exhibit sold all of the more than 50 original pieces at the Cathedral that night, and the students decided that the proceeds will be used to support program’s continuation and expansion in the fall.

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