Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Dominiece Johnson

GHCC-sponsored VISTA Dominiece, serving with My Sister’s Circle in Baltimore, shares about what led her to service and what she’s learned since.

1st Day Photo2My name is Dominiece and I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with My Sister’s Circle (MSC). MSC is a long-term mentoring organization that works with at-risk middle and high school girls in Baltimore. MSC strives to provide opportunities and experiences that empower our girls to define success on their own terms, and ultimately become self-sufficient young women.

My story begins at Howard University.  While at Howard, I discovered my love for serving others through the work I was able to do with my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. I was fortunate enough to participate in many service projects, but one of my proudest accomplishments was co- chairing Stop the Violence, an educational rally for middle school students in the district.  It was at this time that I recognized my passion for working with youth and knew that I always wanted to serve youth in some capacity.

039After graduating from Howard, I went on to pursue a career in retail working for Macy’s corporate office in New York City.  After two years, I left Macy’s and ventured to China to teach English as a second language. My days in the fashion industry were short lived because my passion and purpose involved helping others.

Upon my return from China, I learned about AmeriCorps VISTA from a previous colleague and friend who was serving in Tennessee. Immediately after I learned of the VISTA position as Program Coordinator with MSC, I knew this was where I was meant to be. I was instantly drawn to the organization because I so strongly believed in their mission. I could relate to the young women they served and deeply believed that my experiences coupled with life’s lessons, meant that I had so much to offer.

Dominece- My Sister's CircleAs Program Coordinator, I developed MSC’s first-ever after school program for sixth grade students. I have built relationships with my students and their families, school staff, volunteers. I have assisted with planning monthly events and have become somewhat of a social media ‘guru’.  I have gained so much experience in my current role. Greatest of all and certainly the most rewarding part of my position has been the opportunity to build relationships with the girls. One could say that it was love at first sight; we were instantly drawn to each other. They have changed my trajectory in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I have been inspired and forever changed.

While this position has been more rewarding than I ever anticipated, it has not been without its challenges. I have been called to expand my personal beliefs in order to understand the challenges and circumstances of the girls that I am serving. One of the hardest things to do in this role has been to share my personal values without projecting my own cultural beliefs onto my students. Through it all, I am so thankful to be an AmeriCorps VISTA. I have been tested, yet inspired.  Best of all, I have had the opportunity to work alongside many amazing individuals, all committed to improving the lives of others.


Each year, GHCC brings together a cohort of emerging nonprofit leaders who are passionate about service and community development to serve as AmeriCorps VISTA members.  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. To learn about applying for the 2015-2016 GHCC VISTA Cohort, click here.


Neighborhood Institute Workshop Preview: “Combating Blight in Your Neighborhood” by Peter Duvall

If your neighborhood is looking to address problem and vacant properties, this workshop will help you understand your options. Register for the Neighborhood Institute and help improve the safety and beauty of your block!

GHCC's Revitalization Manager, Peter Duvall, in Harwood.

GHCC’s Neighborhood Revitalization Manager, Peter Duvall.

One of the first impressions of a neighborhood comes from the quality of its housing stock. A block filled with properly maintained, occupied homes is safer and more attractive to potential residents. Neighborhoods throughout Baltimore City deal with a variety of problem properties, including vacant homes, nuisance and criminal properties, houses that are not kept up to expected housing code standards.

Navigating the code enforcement system in Baltimore City can be complex and confusing. For nearly a decade, GHCC’s Neighborhood Revitalization Manager Peter Duvall has supported neighborhood leaders looking to combat blight in their communities. Peter works with residents to identify problem properties and work with City officials to ensure timely code enforcement. In the “Combating Blight in Your Neighborhood” workshop, Peter will focus on how community residents can support enforcing the City’s housing, zoning, building, and related codes to maintain the appearance and value of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

GHCC’s annual Neighborhood Institute will be held on Saturday, April 18th, 2015 at the Baltimore Design School (1500 Barclay Street). You can register for the event by following this link. This year, the Institute will feature 36 workshops on a variety of topics relevant to community issues and City-wide opportunities. Check back here regularly for a preview of some of the workshops and presenters you can expect to see at this year’s Institute.

Building sisterhood at the 29th St. Community Center

A sense of sisterhood is something that Sabrina Bond continually tries to instill in the elementary and middle school-aged girls who participate in her afterschool program, Finding the U From Within. Hosted every Thursday at the 29th Street Community Center, the program provides a safe space for young girls to talk, share, discuss, and support one another. Bond, who is a longtime resident of Harwood, exudes the kind of warmth and acceptance that encourages this group to talk openly about life at home, life at school, and life in general. And, what is discussed inside the space always stays inside the space. “You are your sister’s keeper,” Sabrina reminds her participants.

finding the u blog pic

Modeling, writing poetry, and producing theatrical sketches are among the many activities the group has taken part in over the past few months. During a unit on “praise poetry” last fall, each girl wrote a poem celebrating her uniqueness and presented it at the Community Center’s 1st Annual Potluck of Thanks in front of more than 150 family members, neighbors, and elected officials.

“It was an amazing experience to see the effort they put into their poems, practicing diligently before their recital, and their sense of pride they felt after they recited their poems,” says Community Center Director, Hannah Gardi.

Finding the U From Within is free and takes place every Thursday from 2:45pm – 4pm. Contact Sabrina Bond at or at 410-889-2911 if you know a girl who is interested in joining. Or, register online today!

AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Nick Jacobsen

Tasked with engaging and empowering residents to lead revitalization efforts throughout the 20 neighborhoods along the York Road corridor, Nick Jacobsen will end his VISTA term of service next week at the York Road Partnership on a positive note.

I spent my formative years primarily in Chicago, IL and Frederick, MD, but I have also spent considerable time living in Texas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York City. I have always found the subject of community governance and collective action fascinating. While attending Wheaton College in Massachusetts, I spent a considerable portion of my time studying how communities create and sustain change at the organizational level. AmeriCorps*VISTA has been the perfect means by which to combine service to a community in need with first-hand experience learning the mechanics of grassroots organizing.

NickI chose to serve at the York Road Partnership (YRP) because they offered me the opportunity to work with a variety of individuals and neighborhoods, and engage in a wide spectrum of activities. Although there was a set of goals to accomplish before the end of my VISTA term, I could be flexible in how I met them. Organizing work can take a number of forms, so being able to experiment was definitely attractive. Furthermore, YRP is filled with the most passionate, committed, and welcoming people I have ever met. Having the opportunity to work with such a group of admirable people has been my favorite part.

Now that I am at the end of my year of service, my proudest accomplishment has been being able to provide YRP with the structure and tools to sustain itself as a robust, effective, all volunteer organization. As the last of three VISTAs to serve with YRP on this project, preparing the Partnership for “Life after AmeriCorps” was my driving goal. For myself, I would like to continue organizing work, either at home or abroad, and ultimately pursue graduate or doctorate studies.

A final note of advice to other VISTAs: do not become cynical or discouraged because you can’t move mountains over the course of your service year. Though it may not seem so, every little thing you do for your community will resonate for years to come.

Thank you, Nick, for every little thing you’ve done for the YRP, and we at GHCC wish you the best of luck!

AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: James Byun

As a valuable member of The Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA), James Byun will be working to help refugees and asylees escape from poverty. His primary efforts will involve training volunteers, fundraising, and program management.

ERICA Open House 553I have lived in many different places, and this experience is what I attribute both my flexibility to new situations and enthusiasm for learning new things. I was born in Dallas, TX and was the first member of my family born in the United States. My family moved briefly to Seoul, South Korea, but my mom wanted to finish her MFA degree her in the US. So, while my dad continued his job in Seoul, my mom raised me and my two sisters in Pocatello, ID. That is where I developed my appreciation for the outdoors.

We then moved to Irvine, CA when I was in third-grade, and I lived there until I graduated high school. That is where I developed my distaste for the suburbs. I attended college at UC Berkeley and got my BA in English and subsequently lived and worked in the Bay Area.  When I began my current relationship, I moved to Portland, OR.  When my partner became an AmeriCorps VISTA in Baltimore, we moved out to the East Coast where we have been living the last 3 years.

I had prepared most of my life for a career in academia, but I realized that I did not want to pursue the same path as many of my family members. While looking for work in Baltimore, I started volunteering for ERICA. Here, I found an organization, and more importantly a community of people, who were dedicated to serving others. I discovered that I greatly enjoyed working with clients, using my experience and knowledge as the son of immigrants to help refugees and asylum seekers. Working with clients at a non-profit requires two primary traits that I feel been most useful for my growth as a person – empathy for others and efficacy when working with them. With the help and guidance of GHCC staff, ERICA applied for and was granted an AmeriCorps*VISTA placement, which I then was offered. Now, I am able to devote myself full-time to helping ERICA and its clients.

GHCC-005Working as a VISTA can be very challenging, but I love the fact that I am required to think about the long-term success of ERICA. Having that mandate inspires both a great sense of responsibility and personal investment. If there is one thing that I wish to accomplish in my time here, it is to develop a group of committed volunteers. Refugees and asylum seekers have to navigate an often bewildering array of bureaucratic systems—legal, medical, financial, educational, and many more. I want to have client advocates assist our clients with these systems, ensuring accountability from service providers and providing emotional and informational support.

Right now, I am most excited about our Around the World in 5k Fun Run/Walk that is taking place on September 28th on the Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus. This fundraiser will benefit ERICA’s Family Reunification Program that helps clients bring their family members to the US after often years of separation due to war and oppression. Many of our clients and their families will be there to participate and I am looking very forward to seeing all the members of our community coming together. You can still sign up and join us!