Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Keeping it positive and inclusive at Remington’s sweet spot

By Robyn Githui

Sweet 27 has been a staple in the Remington neighborhood for over eight years. When I arrived at the café on West 27th Street, the bright orange and yellow exterior stood out in this otherwise residential area. Over the years, the funky exterior colors have changed, but the overall atmosphere has not. Although Sweet 27 is mainly known for its eclectic, gluten-free menu, its employee-friendly practices and community-first philosophy also set it apart.

Sweet 27’s dedication to employees and community is a reflection of its history. Sweet 27 started out as Meet 27 under former owner Richard D’Souza, who started the restaurant, as well as an adjoining bakery/café that share’s the restaurant’s name, to help meet the needs of people with dietary restrictions. All of the food is gluten-free, and many items on the menu are soy and dairy-free as well, making it one of the most diet-inclusive establishments in the city.

When I first met Suraj Bhatt, the current owner of Sweet 27, he was warm, welcoming, and in the midst of running the business’ day-to-day operations. When Bhatt first started working as a cashier at Sweet 27, he did not know that he would become a partner and eventual owner of one of Baltimore’s most interesting restaurants in less than a decade. Like D’Souza, Bhatt allows his employees to try and take on different roles in the business, like one server who is learning how to do some of the managerial work. He also encourages his workers to perfect their skills outside of work, through school and nearby English classes at Strong City Baltimore’s Adult Learning Center. Following in D’Souza’s footsteps, Bhatt supports his employees by giving them the time and opportunities to grow. He understands that many of his employees won’t work with him forever, and that is OK. Bhatt’s employee-friendly business model has attracted a lot of attention, and Sweet 27 will be recognized in Civic Works’ upcoming Good Business Works initiative, which highlights local businesses for their commitment to high-quality workforce practices.

During my time at the café, Bhatt greeted all of the customers who came in and expressed an enormous amount of gratitude for the Remington community, which he credits for the establishment’s success. Sweet 27 is known for its easygoing atmosphere, but it has gone through its share of challenges, including the change in ownership. Despite this, Bhatt focuses on positivity and insists that “Everything goes in a circle.” The customers and employees support Sweet 27, so Sweet 27 supports and helps uplift them. It’s mutually beneficial, and everyone benefits from their place in the community.

Sweet 27 supports its community in a couple of ways. Sweet 27 hosts fundraisers as a fun way to help people and build community. (It has hosted Strong City Baltimore fundraisers in the past, including a recent one to benefit the 29th Street Community Center.) It’s not always easy for smaller, local businesses to donate money, but Bhatt recognizes that the community fuels his business and that it is important to give back in some way. Anyone is welcome to inquire about having a fundraiser at the eatery.

Another way that Sweet 27 supports its community is by championing cultural awareness and inclusivity, through its menu and its values. Last year, Sweet 27, along with a few other Baltimore-area restaurants, participated in “A Day Without Immigrants.”  The day was a part of the broader movement demanding fair and inclusive immigration policies. The decision to close was a collective one. Many of Sweet 27’s employees and customers are immigrants, and they were inspired to participate as a way to show solidarity and support for immigrant rights.

Strong City Baltimore’s neighborhood work embraces community wealth building, an approach to economic development that puts residents and communities first, valuing equity, inclusion, and sustainability. One way that that we support community wealth building in Baltimore is by spotlighting exemplary businesses that are making their communities better. For more information about Strong City’s community wealth building philosophy, click here.


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: “Come Love a Forest Patch” by Katie Lautar

If you are looking to protect the natural beauty and biodiversity of your neighborhood, ‘Come Love a Forest Patch’ would be perfect for you! To participate in this workshop, and others, register for the 2015 Neighborhood Institute here.

Even in Baltimore’s urban environment, many large forest patches exist. In fact, 34% of Baltimore’s tree canopy comes from forest patches – areas with over 10,000 square feet of tree canopy. These patches provide important ecosystem and wildlife benefits while contributing to the diversity and beauty of Baltimore City. Forest patches exist all over the City, sometimes hidden in the alleys behind our main streets – there is probably one in your neighborhood already!

Katie Lautar of Baltimore Green Space (photo courtesy of Baltimore Green Space).

Katie Lautar of Baltimore Green Space (photo courtesy of Baltimore Green Space).

As part of our Greening track, we are excited to partner with Baltimore Green Space to offer the “Come Love a Forest Patch” workshop at the 2015 Neighborhood Institute. This presentation will be led by Katie Lautar of Baltimore Green Space and include presentations from forest stewards from Govans Urban Forest, Springfield Woods, and Wilson Woods. Come learn about forest patches, discuss their environmental and social value, and share the basics of forest care in a patch near you. The forest patch stewards will also share stories of caring for their forests.

GHCC’s annual Neighborhood Institute will be held on Saturday, April 18th, 2015 at the Baltimore Design School (1500 Barclay Street). To register for the event, follow 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.

 


Neighborhood Institute Workshop Preview: “Know and Grow Your Volunteers” by Elisha Hawk, Jaclyn Range, and Annie Kaplan

Are you struggling to attract attendees to your general meetings? Is it difficult to get participants to volunteer for your organization’s events? If so, “Know and Grow Your Volunteers” will be a great professional development opportunity for a member of your non-profit. You can register for the 2015 Neighborhood Institute here.

For many emerging non-profits and local community associations, creating an active and engaged membership base is a constant challenge. While it might be easy to get members to join your organization, getting them to volunteer and invest in organizational activities can be more difficult. If you are looking to grow your non-profit’s volunteer base, this inspiring and interactive workshop is for you.

This workshop will be led by Elisha Hawk of the Yost Legal Group. Elisha is a Board Member for two local non-profit organizations, the Maryland Association for Justice and Back on My Feet Baltimore. Using these two case studies, Elisha will share tips for how to empower your members to feel more like citizens and take a more active role in your organization. Small steps to help participants feel more connected to an event can lead to a large increase in volunteering members. Elisha will be joined in her workshop by Jackie Range, Executive Director of Back on my Feet, and Annie Kaplan from Fay Kaplan Law.

Elisha Hawk (center)(photo courtesy of Maryland Association for Justice)

Elisha Hawk with Back on My Feet Baltimore volunteers. (Photo courtesy of the Maryland Association for Justice, Inc.)

 

GHCC’s 2015 Neighborhood Institute will be held on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at the Baltimore Design School (1500 Barclay Street). To register for the event, follow 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.

 


Sponsor Spotlight: Pessin Katz Law

The GHCC blog team recently checked in with Pessin Katz Law (PK Law) about giving back to the community and the 29th Street Community Center. 

Can you please tell us a bit about PK Law?

Pessin Katz Law, P.A. (PK Law) is the tenth largest law firm in the Baltimore area and has been serving clients for over twenty-five years.  The firm has offices in Towson, Columbia, and Bel Air and is comprised of over 60 lawyers, paralegals and law clerks, whose practices span the legal field. Practice areas include corporate and business law, real estate, education law, estate planning, elder law, labor and employment, litigation, insurance law and medical malpractice defense.

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

Adam Konstas was the driving force behind PK Law’s decision to sponsor. Adam is an associate at the firm and got involved with the 29th Street Community Center through his involvement in Baltimore Volunteer Maryland’s GIVE Program.

PK Law's Adam Konstas (right) and another BVM GIVE team member.

PK Law’s Adam Konstas (right) and Exelon’s Brian Bauder (left) both participated in the 2014 BVM GIVE Program to support GHCC’s 29th St Community Center.

PK Law is proud of its community involvement.  As a firm, PK Law participates in quarterly community involvement activities. PK Law attorneys are encouraged to serve on boards and committees, and volunteer their knowledge to help nonprofit organizations, religious groups, recreational teams and civic groups.

Even though your firm is located in the county, why is supporting efforts in Baltimore City important to PK Law?

The firm certainly considers Baltimore City part of its local community and is happy to give back there.  Many of the firm’s clients are in the city, a lot of the firm’s legal work is done in the city, many of the organizations the firm supports help those in the city and many of its attorneys live in the city.

Many thanks to PK Law and BVM’s GIVE Program for their support of GHCC’s 29th Street Community Center! 

If you or your business would like to sponsor a GHCC  signature event, please contact Emma Simpson at esimpson@strongcitybaltimore.org or 410-261-3507.