Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Neighborhood Institute Workshop Preview: “Design in Detail” by Laura Wheaton

If you are looking to plan a long-term community project of any size, the “Design in Detail” workshop led by Laura Wheaton, Program Manager at the Neighborhood Design Center, is for you! To participate in this workshop, and many more, register for the 2015 Neighborhood Institute here.

One of the more difficult meetings a neighborhood can hold is a visioning meeting. How do you create a community vision that is both aspirational and concrete? How do you plan both short-term and long-term? How do you create consensus around your vision? These are problems all neighborhoods struggle with, whether you are trying to plan a block project or create a development plan for your area. At this year’s Neighborhood Institute, this workshop will provide valuable tips for constructing a group vision.
Neighborhood Design Center Staff Portraits

The Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) provides pro-bono design services for community-initiated projects by leveraging the support of volunteer professionals. They coordinate and facilitate Visioning Workshops designed to bring community members together and construct a vision for their planning project, whether it is an edible garden, new building, or neighborhood master plan. Their workshop will share the best practices of coordinating and facilitating your own visioning process, including logistics, sample exercises, and facilitation tips. It will also discuss how and when communities can access pro-bono design assistance from NDC.

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.


AmeriCorps*VISTA Spotlight: Matt Ragazzo

Matt is serving his VISTA year with the Neighborhood Design Center in west Baltimore. He will be working in GHCC target neighborhoods to educate and engage homeowners and contractors to consider sustainable alternatives when going through the renovation process. As part of his project he is having a “Green Home Renovations Workshop” for homeowners on October 19th from 10am-12pm at the 29th Street Community Center. He invites you all to attend! If you have questions about the workshop please reach him by phone at 410-233-9686 ext. 101 or email at

I have always had a passion for traveling, exploring new ideas and cultures, and embracing the vulnerability of being in unfamiliar places and situations—values most likely instilled in me from an early age when my family packed up and moved to Italy for two years. When I moved back to the US my family eventually settled down in Wilmington, North Carolina. I remained in Wilmington for most of my formative years of adolescence and it was in North Carolina where I managed to acquire a solid, and perhaps confused, southern-inspired identity (I love folk/bluegrass music and use y’all excessively, but cannot stomach grits or sweet tea).

matt in desert close to Jaisalmer India with new friend Victoria

I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after graduating high school and it was during college that I was able to begin internationally traveling again. With a newly acquired interest in public health and urban planning, I traveled to Moldova on a fellowship with UNC’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders to assess the water and sanitation conditions in rural Moldovan schools. This experience infused the concept of service and travel and became my first impactful service experience in my life. Since this was a student-run project with limited resources, I also learned the importance of needs based assessments, capacity-building, and sustainability in ensuring successful projects. My learning opportunities weren’t just limited to understanding academic models of community change theories, but through the interpersonal connections I made with people as well. I stayed with a host-family while in Moldova and I every evening after a long day in the field, I listened to my host parents talk forever about life in Moldova during the Soviet era, what it’s like to raise children, and how to make the perfect duck and potato soup (and doing so as organically as it gets).

In addition to my more academically focused work in Moldova, I was able to use travel to better understand myself. My self-awareness in Italy as a child was softened by my naivety and young age. As a young adult, I used traveling as a means to not only explore new cultures and lean into the discomfort of unfamiliar places, but I also used travel as a means to better understand how I fit in the world. During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, where I was able to study the injustices of Apartheid, the healing and reconciliation process of a torn nation, and the complexity of racial and socio-economic issues that South Africa faces today. I candidly listened to South Africans speak about race, and listening to their stories struck an emotional chord within me. The blatant social injustices I studied and witnessed in South Africa allowed me to open my eyes to the more nuanced social injustices in the US and what my role, as someone coming from privilege, could be in helping end those injustices back home.

matt at NDC3I finished UNC disillusioned with what I wanted from my life following graduation. I moved back home after graduating and worked at a coffee shop. I used money I saved while living at home to have another adventure and I traveled through Italy, India, and Southeast Asia for nearly four months at the beginning of this year. I realized that both lifestyles, barista and globetrotter, were far from sustainable. I couldn’t (nor did I did I have any desire to) live at home forever, and while traveling fulfilled the thirst I had for adventure, it wasn’t a practical long-term pursuit. During that year of soul-searching following my own graduation, I decided that a year of service would be an excellent way to learn more about fields I did not have exposure to in college and it would serve as a way to give back to communities in US.

When looking for opportunities for service, Baltimore was never a city that was on my radar. Finding the VISTA assignment at the Neighborhood Design Center could not have been a more perfect match! My unfamiliarity with Baltimore was definitely a draw to the city, and I have become a strong believer that Baltimore is an extremely underrated city. There are plenty of awesome, quirky things happening here, and after moving up to Baltimore during the craziness of Artscape, I was sold on its charm.

I am excited to dive into work that I’m passionate about and apply what I’ve learned from my international experiences to a local setting. My work with the Neighborhood Design Center will allow me to explore my interests in the intersection between public health, urban design, and architecture while getting to better understand social justice issues that Baltimore faces. Since I’m not a Baltimore native, I will get to work side-by-side with community members to more intimately understand problems they are facing. By the end of my service term, I hope to have positively contributed to my new community, whether it’s capacity building for my organization or just providing a warm ear to those in the community who want to share their story.

17 AmeriCorps*VISTAs begin service in Maryland

“After a year of soul-searching following my graduation [from college], I decided that national service would be an excellent way to give back to communities in the U.S.,” says North Carolina native Matt Ragazzo, who recently joined AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

AmeriCorps*VISTAs commit a year of their lives to build capacity for a nonprofit, government agency, or community organization to fight poverty in America. Matt, who will be working for the Neighborhood Design Center in Southeast Baltimore, was just one of 17 VISTA members who attended an official VISTA welcome ceremony at GHCC on August 9 here at GHCC.


This year marks the launch of an expanded relationship between GHCC and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that funds AmeriCorps. With support from CNCS, we are now sponsoring 25 VISTA placements in Baltimore City and Prince George’s, Montgomery, Frederick, and Washington counties.

GHCC has over three decades of experience in recruiting, training, and managing VISTA projects, and we are thrilled to play such a key role in supporting national service in Maryland. “GHCC’s role in making the VISTA resource available to so many organizations in Baltimore, and now around the state, has really given [CNCS] the ability to expand our reach,” says Crystal Biles, Director of the CNCS Maryland State office.

Our VISTA program is not only focused on supporting high-quality and meaningful projects that fight the war on poverty, but also on helping VISTA members develop into nonprofit and community leaders. For Angela Mack, who is a VISTA at the Magic Johnson Community Empowerment Center in Bladensburg, MD, the year is already headed in that direction. “I wanted to be a VISTA to bless others, but I see now that I will be the one to be blessed beyond measure.”

Over the next few weeks, GHCC will publish a series of VISTA Spotlights here on our blog to keep you up to speed on how all 25 projects are going. At the welcome celebration, National VISTA Director Mary Strasser urged the VISTAs to tell their stories. “We can’t have enough stories about the good work you do,” she urged. We agree, and are looking forward to sharing all of that good work with our readers.


To stay informed about the progress of this year’s VISTA cohort, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to this blog.

If you are interested in joining AmeriCorps*VISTA, contact our VISTA Leaders Allison Wilhite ( or Tom Pfeifer ( for more information about when to apply.