Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Acting out history at Dallas Nicholas

On February 28, actor Aaron Androh of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture visited students in GHCC’s Barclay Youth Safe Haven Program (BYSH) at Dallas Nicholas Elementary School.  In honor of Black History Month, Mr. Androh arrived in the persona of Earl White, an important figure in Chesapeake history.

“We’ve been doing a unit called History and Heroes,” says Shekita Wilkins, who is the Director of BYSH. “I wanted to introduce the children to a significant historical figure with roots in Baltimore so that they are able to make a more personal connection between their hometown and history.”

Once called “The Black Pearl of the Chesapeake,” Mr. White was an oysterman who, in 1998, was named an Honorary Admiral of the Chesapeake – a title that few African Americans have ever held. After a long life, Mr. White died in 2004. Most watermen still consider him a legend.

BYSH provides 50 students at Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School with mentoring and enrichment activities such as this one. We are currently in great need of academic mentors to serve our students for two hours a week after school. If you are interested, please contact Shekita Wilkins at 410-916-2540 or swilkins@strongcitybaltimore.org.


Adult Literacy Learner Earns His High School Diploma!

When Harry enrolled at the Adult Literacy Program over a year ago, preparing for the GED test was his number one priority. “I had a made-up mind and convinced myself daily of how much I wanted [my diploma], despite 37 years of not having it,” he explained; “I stayed focused”.

The first time that he took the GED test was many years ago; just shortly after he had left high school. Harry realized that being prepared for this second time around was going to take a lot of practice, unrelenting persistence, and his ability to fallback on his strong sense of spirituality and his faith in God. The Program staff couldn’t have been more proud when they received a call from Harry last month – he had just received his GED test scores and had successfully passed! His hard work and determination had paid off.

Harry revealed that he could not have done it without the support and encouragement of his teachers and family. “As long as you were in their [his teachers, Jo Ann and Michelle] classrooms, you were going to learn,” he admitted. He also couldn’t help but be inspired and encouraged by his children’s honor roll grades.

Jo Ann McKinney, Harry’s first teacher at the Program, said that she was struck by his determination and confidence from the start. Jo Ann shared, “He participated in every aspect of class and was willing to do anything outside of the classroom to enhance his education”.

Harry’s next goal is to continue his education and make the most of his musical talents, which include playing the organ in church. His long-term goal is to earn a degree in music and become an Ordained Minister of Music in his church. Congratulations on your success, Harry!

 

 


Building Capacity in Baltimore Schools

Every winter, education advocates across Maryland hit the streets to educate parents and residents on funding cuts on the table for their neighborhood schools.
The Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC) is made up of organizations from across Baltimore City that improve public schools. GHCC was a founding member of the BEC when it formed in 2009, together with organizations like BUILD, Child First Authority, and the ACLU of Maryland.
Jimmy Stuart is an AmeriCorps*VISTA member working in Success Academy, an alternative high school located at the Baltimore City Schools headquarters on North Avenue. As a VISTA, Jimmy is building sustainability in Success Academy’s programs—he sees firsthand how important adequate funding is to maintaining good schools. VISTA guidelines dictate that Jimmy can’t join BEC, but he can help lay the foundation for an active and engaged group of city residents and parents. Today we caught up with Jimmy to ask him about his work.
You’re an AmeriCorps*VISTA member—what does this mean in terms of restrictions on your personal involvement in advocacy efforts?
As a VISTA, I’m prevented from doing anything that ties the VISTA name or image to a political cause. In my project this year, I’m improving the quality and sustainability of programs provided to students at Success Academy, an alternative high school run by Baltimore City Schools. I’m involved with the BEC because funding for schools is directly tied to the goals of my project. In that capacity, I can inform people in the community about how to get involved with this work. I can talk about the BEC, help run meetings, and organize actions. But the actions themselves have to come from BEC members, not me. Simply put, I can tell people how to get to the bus to Annapolis, but I can’t get on the bus myself.
Your role is all about giving others a voice and making sure Baltimore’s citizens are engaged in the legislative process. How does this make you feel at the end of the day? Do you prefer empowering others over being on the front lines, or is it a struggle not to get your hands dirty?
Even if I was doing direct advocacy, the work would be pointless if we weren’t focused on informing others so they know what it means to be advocates for themselves. The need is too great for anyone to do this alone—Baltimore needs a loud, strong voice for our schools. Funding for education affects me, but many other people in this city are closer to the issue than I am. Providing people who are closest to the problem with the information to affect change is going to yield far better results than anything I could do on my own.
Sure, I’ll be disappointed I can’t get on the buses to Annapolis with our community members. But the experience of inspiring people and getting them to that point is something that I’ll carry with me much longer than that momentary disappointment.           
What is your favorite aspect of GHCC’s advocacy work? What have you learned during your tenure here?
What I appreciate most about GHCC’s advocacy work is our awareness of the many different issues affect each other and affect our work. Advocacy often gets broken down into smaller and smaller compartments—you meet people who are passionate about one issue, and one issue only. At GHCC, there’s an understanding that many issues affect our work, and if we want to do our work well, we can’t just plug away on one of them. It all matters.
The quality of our public schools affects us all. Sometimes we think that funding for schools only matters if those schools educate our own children or cut our paychecks. Excellent public schools are critical to building strong and vibrant urban communities. Every family should be excited about sending their children to their neighborhood school. If we want people to invest in this city—to buy and care for a home, to open a quality business, to get involved in their community—we need strong public schools.
Give us a little background on the current education funding crisis and how BEC is trying to help.
It’s an unfortunate fact, but each year school communities are challenged to do more and more with less and less. The state proposes cuts every year, but the cuts this year could be worse than the city has seen in a long time. Not only could the city lose a significant amount of direct funding for schools, but there is a push at the state level to transfer the cost of teacher pensions from the state to local school districts—an incredible expense for city schools to take on.
The state of Maryland is facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall—a hole in state spending that has been plugged up by stimulus money for the last two years. There is going to be enormous pressure within the state legislature to cut spending—including spending for schools—when the budget is introduced in January.
           
For this coming budget session, the BEC has three goals: to maintain current funding for Baltimore City Public Schools; to get elected officials to develop a comprehensive funding plan for the school facilities improvement plan proposed by the ACLU; and to encourage Baltimore’s delegates to work better together on protecting our schools.  
Tell us a little bit about the advocacy training on Thursday. What do you hope people will come away with?
The event on Thursday is a workshop and action. We have targeted key leaders in our school communities to attend the event. We hope to provide them with a clear sense of the potential funding crisis, and to collaborate on how to get people from our communities involved in preventing cuts and improving school facilities. The event will also be an opportunity to celebrate our schools and to get people fired up about our work.
The pressure to cut funding is going to be very strong this year, and those cuts could be devastating for our public schools. I hope people walk away with a sense of hopeful urgency—that it can be done, but it will require all the strength we can muster to do it.
If you are interested in attending the workshop and action at Digital Harbor High School this Thursday, or learning more about the work of the Baltimore Education Coalition, please contact Jimmy at 410.929.3657 or jstuart@strongcitybaltimore.org. 

VISTA Spotlight: Andrew Stiller



Know someone interested in making positive changes in the world? GHCC is seeking qualified candidates for our nationally-renowned AmeriCorps*VISTA program.  Sign on for a year of service with us and receive health benefits, a modest living allowance, and an end-of-service education award.  We have 10 positions available to start in August 2010 in the areas of improving public schools, strengthening neighborhoods, and adult literacy.
We’ll be featuring several VISTA stories in the coming weeks to raise awareness of national service.
Want to know more? Visit our website!

Submitted by Andrew Stiller

I never thought my time as a VISTA member would land me in front of a room of civil servants while being webcast live across the United States. But then again, I didn’t really know what to expect.
Though my parents tried to instill a sense of civic pride and responsibility in me, it didn’t really stick until I got to college. Community service was part of my middle and high school curriculum, but we never embraced it because it was forced upon us. Teenage angst and rebellion almost required that I scoff at being forced to clean streets.
Luckily, that all changed. As an undergraduate at Dickinson College I joined the event planning organization, a service-oriented club called the Keystones, and a traditional Greek fraternity. Surprisingly, I had a better service experience motivating the Greek men to roll out of their beds for philanthropy on Sunday morning than I did with the Keystones. I realized I could affect more change by motivating and teaching others. This was my philosophy throughout college.
After graduation, I was applying for policy-oriented jobs and anything else I could find. I was really lucky to be turned on to the AmeriCorps* VISTA program, and when a position opened up at GHCC, I jumped at the opportunity. VISTA reflected the ideals and methods I adopted in college.
My role as Community Connections Coordinator at GHCC immersed me in a Baltimore City public school community, working with parents and administrators at the school and a variety of partner institutions in the neighborhood. It became apparent early on that true success would be measured by how much buy-in I could get from the parents and the community. A large part of my responsibility would be motivating parents, churches, businesses, neighborhood institutions, and local colleges and universities to invest in Waverly Elementary/Middle School.
I had an opportunity to articulate my experiences when representatives from the Department of Education and the White House’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships came to Waverly to discuss partnership building. I don’t remember saying a lot, but it must have stuck with them. A few months later, I was asked to give a presentation on my role as a VISTA member to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. A briefing had been scheduled to discuss the possible collaborative efforts between the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). As a VISTA member working primarily with schools, I was located at the epicenter of this relationship.
I felt really honored to present on my VISTA experience. I found that the hardest part was limiting the length of my speech. GHCC’s VISTA members wear many different hats on a daily basis: organizer, capacity builder, mediator, teacher—the list is almost limitless. It was really difficult to put it all these amazing experiences into words. I worked on my speech up until the night before, trying to find the right word to express how it felt to see a parent step up to participate at the school.
When I spoke, though, I was confident. The audience was attentive and after two PowerPoint presentations from officials at CNCS, I think my firsthand experience was a useful counterpoint. I spoke about the day to day things, my major accomplishments, and ways any VISTA member can positively change a school. Regardless of my pre-speech jitters and what I had written down, I found that speaking about my VISTA year was actually quite easy. I think the reason is simple: I became a VISTA to help motivate others, yet it was their efforts in return that motivated me even more. I am now just as invested as anyone else in Waverly Elementary/Middle School and its surrounding community. I hope that means my job has come full circle. 

A Look Inside Remington Homework Club

GHCC believes in strong faith-based partnerships, meaningful opportunities for youth, and neighborhood residents committed to making a difference.  This is why we’re happy to share with you a little bit about the Remington Homework Club, a tutoring program that meets at Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington.

Submitted  by Rebekah Lin

The Remington Homework Club (HWC) was founded several years ago by the Church of the Guardian Angel on 27th and Huntingdon in Remington. The idea was to provide children and youth in the neighborhood with a place to go for homework help. We are funded by a grant from the Episcopal diocese, and over the years we’ve built up a base of volunteers and others who participate in a variety of ways. Currently, HWC meets from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. every Monday at the church. On any given week, we have about 20 students and 15 tutors.

I have been involved with HWC since September 2007. I started as a tutor – I found a posting online calling for tutors, and the time and location worked well with my work schedule at the time. I had just graduated from JHU was working at a publishing company, but had a feeling I was more interested in working with kids/youth than I was in proofreading and correcting grammar. I have since switched jobs to a nonprofit that works with after-school programs. I don’t know if I have tangible reasons for staying so committed to HWC, but I know it gives me a chance to put into practice much of what I talk about at work, and a chance to see firsthand how volunteers from the community can truly have a positive impact on Baltimore’s youth (as corny as that may sound).

In January 2008, I became the Director, and have been ever since. My main responsibilities are to recruit tutors and to take care of the logistics of our Monday night meetings. Most of the tutors are young professionals who have heard about us in a variety of ways (mainly online or by word of mouth), but we also have a relationship with two student groups at Hopkins, which provides an additional five tutors. The logistics for our meetings include soliciting volunteers to donate dinner, setting up the space, purchasing needed supplies, setting the calendar, etc.

Most of the students at HWC come from within a few blocks of the church. The handful that don’t live within four or five blocks either used to, or have family that does. Our current grade range is second through tenth, so most of the students attend Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle. The older students attend high schools across the city, including Western, Digital Harbor, and Mergenthaler.

Remington Homework Club


Two HWC high school students with award certificates.  HWC holds an awards ceremony every December and May.

Since I started with HWC, our attendance has doubled. Beyond this growth, my biggest goal has been to stress the importance of coming every week – to both students and tutors. As we’ve been able to have more and more consistent tutor/student pairs, nearly everything – from attendance to behavior to my stress levels – has improved. The pairs that have been together since the beginning of this school year, if not last school year, are absolutely the most successful. The importance of these relationships is the root of HWC’s biggest successes and biggest challenges. It is incredible to see students get excited every week to see their tutors. It is rewarding to see the relationships develop. And it is trying to see students disappointed when their tutor doesn’t come, or tutors struggling to form a relationship with a different student every week, because the students don’t come back.

Remington Homework Club


Tutors and students help cook a snack at HWC.



Every week, at least one student tells me that HWC needs to meet every day, or at least more than once a week. This reminds me that the work we do matters and is appreciated, and also reminds me of the limits of our resources. Every week, I see more and more students becoming comfortable with their tutors as well as with me, more and more students getting older and more mature, and more and more tutors becoming invested in what HWC does.


HWC is always looking for additional volunteers as well as people willing to donate a dinner (we have a full dinner every week, from 6:00-6:30) or other needed supplies. To learn more, contact Rebekah at rlin10@gmail.com

Remington Homework Club