Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Strong City Baltimore supports immigrants and refugees

Encouraging fear and hatred of immigrants goes against everything Strong City Baltimore stands for. Our mission is building and strengthening neighborhoods and people in Baltimore. Immigrants make our nation and our city stronger. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable populations; refusing to help them when we can is heartless. Facts and history demonstrate that we have little to fear from newcomers to our shores, and a great deal to be gained from their presence here.

This issue is personal for us. At Strong City’s Adult Learning Center, we are blessed to welcome immigrants from many lands who have sought our help leaning English and achieving their dreams. The fact is, only a few generations separate most of us from a wrenching farewell to an ancestral homeland: sometimes bound in chains, sometimes fleeing danger, sometimes with no money but full of hope for a new life.

For three hundred years, Baltimore has been at the center of the U.S. immigration story. Sometimes called “the other Ellis Island,” Baltimore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the second-leading port of entry to the U.S. Over the decades, 1.2 million Europeans disembarked near Fort McHenry, and about 15 percent of them settled here. Germans and Irish were the largest groups, but Baltimore also welcomed thousands of Italians, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs, Greeks, and Jews from across Europe – and later on, Koreans, Africans, Mexicans, and Salvadorans.

No matter your race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or immigration status, Strong City Baltimore welcomes you. We stand with and support every immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker trying to make a better life in Baltimore, and we reject all efforts to whip up fear of newcomers or turn vulnerable people into scapegoats for our problems. This nation, and this city, are better than that.

GHCC Staff Spotlight: Teddy Edouard

The GHCC Blog Team recently caught up with Gusman “Teddy” Edouard , Assistant Director of GHCC’s Adult Learning Center. Teddy was recently awarded a COABE Scholarship Award from the Maryland Association of Adult Community and Continuing Education.

Teddy Gusman (left) with GHCC's Deputy Directory, Todd Elliott (right).

Teddy Edouard (left) with GHCC’s Deputy Director, Todd Elliott (right).

Congratulations on your scholarship award!  Can you tell us about your position and your primary responsibilities at the Adult Learning Center?

As the Assistant Director of the Adult Learning Center, in a nutshell, I teach English and Civics class twice a week, coordinate the English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, assist with scheduling the ALC classes, and act as a resource person for the ALC instructors. I also plan, develop, and organize professional development for the teaching team, in collaboration with the Adult Basic Education Instructional Specialist. Furthermore, I lead the learner outreach process and help with class registration and preparation. Lastly, I contribute to the program evaluation and improvement.

What did you do before coming to the ALC?

Before joining the ALC I worked as an ESOL instructor and trainer in a variety of contexts, but my immediate previous position was a Cross-Border Program Coordinator at Plan International, where I used local US Embassies’ grant money to create the first Bi-National English Camp for teachers and high school students from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

What a great background. Can you tell us what you like best about your job at the Adult Learning Center?

The best thing about what I do on daily basis is putting my passion into action. I really enjoy the fact that at the ALC we work together like a navy seal team; we train together, have each other’s backs, and we share one mission — providing quality learner-centered instruction to promote literacy and help foreign-born residents improve their English language skills. In other words, we put the learners at the center of our day-to-day practices and decisions. I really enjoy being part of an effective and efficient team that puts people first. On top of that, my job is very satisfying. It has allowed me to contribute to making Baltimore a Strong City by serving both natives of Baltimore and immigrants from all over the world. And seeing learners’ progress and achievements always makes my day.

What do you find most challenging about your job at the ALC?

I believe education is the silver bullet that can transforms Baltimore city; however, life’s challenges and distractions make it difficult for lots of folks to take advantage of our free classes and achieve their educational goals. That being said, students’ retention has been one of the biggest challenges I face in my line of work. That is, keeping learners engaged and motivated is what the ALC teachers work to do day-by-day. And part of my job is to help alleviate the impact of learners’ attrition on the performance of our program as a whole through the betterment of our professional development sessions and the quality of classroom instruction, using technologies to create real and authentic learning opportunities.

What do you plan to do with the scholarship award you are receiving?

My scholarship award will go toward covering expenses related to courses I take at Purdue University, such as Instructional Design and Technology. In addition, the fund will cover my subscription to a scientific journal in Instructional Design.

That’s terrific!  What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the growth of Adult Education in Baltimore City?

The top challenge is funding. Adult education providers in Baltimore do not have the necessary funding to effectively meet the needs of the adult learners, nor can they afford to hire full-time teachers and purchase the appropriate 21st century technologies that can facilitate students’ access to the indispensable skills necessary for quality jobs. This is unfortunate because whether we like it or not, parents’ education level has a big impact on their children’s educational achievement. That is to say, investing in adult education is the right thing to do if we want to also strengthen the K-12 system, which in turn will lead to improved high school graduation rates.

You give so much passion and energy to your job. What do you like to do in your time away from work?

I like spending time with my family, hanging out with my friends, and reading about the new trends in ESOL and Instructional Design. I take pleasure in working on small projects around my house. Lastly, I enjoy riding my bike around Lake Montebello and at Druid Hill Park.

Thank you, Teddy, for sharing your work and vision for adult learning with us. And congratulations on your award!

Sponsor Spotlight: UPD Consulting

The GHCC Blog Team recently caught up with Douglass Austin of UPD Consulting to talk about the benefits of city living, understanding community needs, and the importance of good beer and strong neighborhoods. 

Can you please tell us a bit about UPD Consulting? 

UPD Consulting is a Baltimore-based, minority-owned public sector management consulting firm that helps public sector agencies including local governments, school districts, state education agencies, and non-profits, transform into organizations that manage performance for better outcomes.

Douglass Austin of UPD Consulting (photo credit: Literary Lots)

Douglass Austin of UPD Consulting (photo credit: Literary Lots)

Cool! What do you love most about working in Baltimore? 

We’re city people. Most of our Baltimore-based staff live in the city. And most of our staff around the country also live in cities, not the surrounding suburbs. When we looked for a new building, our main constraint was it be in Baltimore City. I think that’s one of the reasons we relate so well to our clients who are typically urban governments or school systems. We like being a part of a neighborhood, being able to walk to get lunch or after-work cocktails. The fact that we’re now part of an older Baltimore community with lots of different things going on—instead of a sterile business park—is very appealing.

We agree wholeheartedly! So why did you choose to sponsor the 1st Annual Oktoberfest Fundraiser to support the 29th Street Community Center? 

It was kind of a no-brainer for us. We want to be a supportive and contributing member of this community, and we have sought out ways to help make this a stronger neighborhood (like the pro bono project we did for Margaret Brent Elementary/Middles School). And then there’s the beer. We’re BIG beer fans at UPD. Two of our staff members—including our Office Manager—are serious home brewers. And really good beer is featured at our own “First Thursday” happy hours we host for staff, family and friends. So, when the opportunity arose to sponsor the 29th Street Community Center’s Oktoberfest, we couldn’t say no!

Can you tell us more about that pro bono project with Margaret Brent?

We are proud of our connection to Margaret Brent,which is across the street from us. When we moved in, we decided we should try to do something “neighborly” as our introduction to the street, so instead of selling our used furniture when we outfitted our new space, we donated it to the school. That led to conversations about what we do—a lot of which has to do with schools and school district performance. And that led to a longer-term pro bono project to help the school get community input on their new principal selection process.  We held sessions where the community members gave input on the strengths and weaknesses of the school, key focus areas, and important qualities for a new principal.

You also serve as an Advisory Board member to GHCC – what is your motivation to serve in this role?

Again, it has to do with wanting to stay connected to our neighborhood and to important work that is happening in the city. When I worked for the city’s Housing Department, I was enmeshed in community development work almost every day. But most of UPD’s consulting work is in other cities around the country, so participating on GHCC’s Advisory Board is one way I can stay connected to what’s happening here in my own city.

Thank you, Doug, and UPD Consulting, for sponsoring the 1st Annual Oktoberfest and for being a great example of a community-minded business! 

Registration for Winter/Spring Programming at the 29th Street Community Center is open! You can find our program line-up here and register here

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.

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.