Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

AmeriCorps VISTA Spotlight: Laquesha Wright

VISTA 019Laquesha Wright is a GHCC sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Maryland New Directions (MND) in Baltimore City to improve client relationships through a client focus program and increasing the effectiveness of the community partner outreach process as well as improving its relations with current employers.

My service experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA has been very influential in shaping my perspective on social policy issues.  Being an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer opened my eyes to the possibilities of what service can be. AmeriCorps VISTA has been a great outlet for my passion of giving back. I have been able to explore the possibilities of service beyond direct service and I have learned ways to strengthen and support the initiative of an organization by coordinating community service programs, raising awareness, promoting justice work, and providing logistical/administrative support.

CAB MeetingI have been able to work alongside MND to create sustainable resources that can be used to better impact the Baltimore community and contribute to its elevation. My work at MND has enabled me to focus on how to combine different skills and ways of thinking to help the community to achieve a common goal. Due to the service work I have done, I have developed a strong sense of connection to the people and things around me. Through these service experiences I have been able to work with many diverse people, which have changed, my current perception of the world and of social justice issues. My service work compels me to understand the origins of structural injustices and the policies that have perpetuated them on a global as well as national scale.

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: “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 or 410-261-3507. 

Sponsor Spotlight: Urban Teacher Center

Our blog team caught up with Kathleen Richardson, Executive Director of Urban Teacher Center, Baltimore (UTC) to discuss the role of quality teachers and quality schools in successful neighborhood and city development.

Tell us a bit about the Urban Teacher Center (UTC), how did the organization emerge, and what do you do?

UTC is a four year teacher training program, with a 14-month “residency” in the classroom’s of one of our 36 partner schools in Baltimore City. Our trainees leave with a Masters in Special Education and either Elementary Education or Secondary Math. UTC was formed in 2010, with founding programs in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. but our national headquarters is here in Baltimore. Our first cohort of Baltimore residents just finished their 4th and final year of the program, and we are thrilled because everyone in the cohort is staying in the teaching profession. This is an exciting time for us!

Why does UTC focus on Baltimore City Schools?

Our founders and staff members all have strong connections with Baltimore. Baltimore City principals value UTC teachers because our teachers begin their professional careers with a year of experience under their belt working directly with Baltimore students. UTC teachers are trained rigorously in either elementary education or secondary math content in addition to special education, which is a great value. They come in to the classroom with a deep understanding of Baltimore City’s schools, communities, and students.

What inspired you to participate in Greater Homewood’s Neighborhood Institute?

GHCC’s programming is embedded in schools. Work like theirs, and ours, creates value in the community. Our teachers are not only trained in instructional content, but also how to work in the communities where they are placed. The Neighborhood Institute was a good networking and training opportunity for the community as a whole. Every workshop topic was not just talked about, but was acted on.

What role do you think education and healthy schools play in building strong neighborhoods?

I believe education and healthy schools play the most important role in building strong neighborhoods. We train our teachers to integrate their work into the community. They cannot “shut their doors” at the end of the school day. Our teachers spend a great deal of their time participating in their communities.

What do you love about Baltimore?

The success of Baltimore’s schools is so important for the continued success of the city. Personally, Baltimore is my home, it’s where I work, it’s where I send my son to school – I am invested in Baltimore.

Photo Credit: Chris Wade,  Pinterest

UTC’s 2013 Cohort. Photo Credit: Chris Wade, Pinterest


Many thanks to Kathleen and Urban Teacher Center for supporting GHCC’s 2014 Neighborhood Institute – the 2015 Neighborhood Institute will be on April 18, 2015 at the Baltimore Design School – registration will open soon, so keep your eyes peeled!