Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

A Uniform for Every Student

Submitted by Kerri Hamberg

Margaret Brent Student Receiving UniformAs a relatively new resident of Baltimore and a new volunteer at GHCC, I want to spend some time getting to know the area and the organization. Since I’m a former public school teacher and a parent, Christy—GHCC’s Development Director and the supervisor for my volunteer work—recommended I start by talking to a fellow parent who’s been working with GHCC in the local public schools.

I sat down on August 26 with Jennifer DiFrancesco, a mother of two and minister at Second Presbyterian Church on N. Charles Street. This summer, GHCC helped her and other parents at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School use direct appeals and social networking to raise over $9000, enough to provide each student with a brand-new uniform for the 2010-11 school year.

“Originally, we’d just hoped to raise enough for a couple hundred second-hand uniforms,” she told me. “But then GHCC stepped up and offered us help with Facebook, Twitter, and Paypal, and suddenly the donations started rolling in. We could never have raised so much money without their help. Now we have more than enough for every child to have a free, brand-new uniform for the first day of school.”

Last week, the school hosted a back-to-school event, where each student was measured for their uniform and everyone went home with a brand-new shirt. GHCC’s Karen DeCamp helped make arrangements for five AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers to assist with the celebratory event.

“Everything went so smoothly, thanks to all of the volunteers. We sold some hot dog plates for $2.50, fitted everyone for their new uniforms, and the kids had a great time,” Jenn said. “I think we’re all looking forward to the new school year.”

Kerri has been volunteering with GHCC’s development staff to help with public relations and fundraising efforts. This is her first blog post, but we’ll be hearing more from her as she settles in! To read more about Jenn DiFrancesco’s amazing fundraising efforts for Margaret Brent students, keep an eye on your inbox for this month’s GHCC Digest (or sign up if you haven’t already) or check out her feature in Great Kids Up Close.

Community Involvement and Urban Education: A Labor of Love

Submitted by Laura Scott, Charles Village resident and parent.

GHCC has been promoting Charles Village public schools with support from a neighborhood-school partnership grant from the Goldseker Foundation.  This work– including parent focus groups — inspired a few families to start the Village Parents, an organization dedicated to increasing family-friendly options in Charles Village.  Here, Laura Scott talks about her journey from an expectant mother buying a home in the city to a neighborhood leader championing great urban public schools.

When my husband and I moved to Charles Village in late 2008, part of the draw of the neighborhood was the close-knit community. We had visions of building friendships with neighbors and getting involved with community associations.  However, starting an entirely new organization, particularly one geared toward people in one of the most intimidating life stages we could imagine – young parenthood (I was pregnant at the time) – was nowhere near the top of our list of priorities.

We loved city living and loved what we knew of Charles Village, but as we were looking for the perfect home, we couldn’t escape the question of where we’d send our daughter to school in five years. Like many people, we were influenced by the conventional wisdom that city schools could never offer the quality of education we would want for our child.

I wasn’t satisfied that public city schools were an impossibility for us, and we bought our house while our questions about the state of the schools were still unanswered. Even if it was true that the schools were providing sub-standard education to their students, we didn’t feel we had the right to flee to private schools or the suburbs for our own piece of mind without learning first if there was something we could do to help. If the schools had to be improved in some ways, how better to make that happen than by getting personally involved with our children? Yet at the same time, we didn’t want to put our own child on the line for the sake of our idealistic agenda. We realized that if we were going to have a shot at bringing about any change, we would need others to do it with us.

Through conversations with neighbors, I learned that another Abell resident, Jo Ann Robinson, had been part of a movement in Charles Village in the 1970s to do exactly what I was envisioning. In passing, I shared with Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) staff at the Abell Street Fair last September how much I admired Jo Ann’s efforts, and soon thereafter was invited to join a parents’ focus group at GHCC to discuss the public schools and why parents would or wouldn’t send their kids there.  The points that came out of that meeting were used by GHCC in its application for the Goldseker Foundation’s Neighborhood-School Partnership Grant on behalf of Barclay and Margaret Brent schools. 

It was enlightening to learn about others’ perspectives, but even more, it was encouraging to find that one other parent, Laura Wexler, was asking the same questions I was. Coincidentally, we crossed paths the very next day at a newly begun playgroup and started to exchange ideas.  Our combined vision was to begin a parents’ organization that would develop within the context of social community while also setting specific goals to make the neighborhood more “family friendly,” with school involvement a top priority. A few weeks later we gathered a group of parents who wanted to help establish our mission and goals, and the Village Parents was born.

Laura and I have learned quickly that starting a new organization is not easy. Goals must start small and be very tangible. The kinds of community needs we can address aren’t always apparent, and we have to wait for something meaningful to arise (recently, for example, we were presented with the opportunity to buy custom benches for the Abell Open Space). Our ideas often tend not to lend themselves easily to delegation, and so we often just tackle them ourselves. Sometimes hours of legwork turns out a negligible result. It has become more or less a part-time job for me, and as a stay-at-home mom, I usually devote my daughter’s nap time to Village Parents projects.

Although it’s been hard to pin down a singular focus and figure out how to recruit volunteers for specific projects, we have gained some momentum in creating events to bring parents and other community members together to give them an opportunity to engage in the schools. Most recently, we have been hosting a series of panel discussions featuring members of the educational community who share about issues in urban education, types of teaching styles, and success stories in city schools. Although our School Daze series has so far proven to be more appealing to the community than our target audience – parents of school-age or younger children – we see it as an opportunity to establish ourselves as an asset to the community that will deliver a product and not just talk theory.

We envision Charles Village becoming a magnet neighborhood one day for families who are attracted by the diversity of residents; strong community among people of different ethnicities, cultures, and demographics; and strong public schools. But we’re certain this vision won’t be accomplished until the families who are here now make it a priority to share this vision and help us work toward it. A desire for community will inherently build a community. Right now it’s our job to fuel the desire.

The Village Parents are hosting the second in a series of five public panel discussions on the state of urban education tonight at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School.  If you can, come out between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. for a memorable conversation with community leaders who have dared to make a difference.

Waverly School Parents Get a Space of Their Own

From the Waverly Elementary/Middle School PTO

With the help of our Community Connections VISTA this past January, the Waverly Elementary Middle School PTO received a grant from Lowe’s for $3,600 to make a new parent room. With this money we are creating a special space for parents at the school that will be a lounge, work space, and resource center. The parent room is located in the middle school portable building. So far we have had two “decorate days” where we put together our new furniture, decorated the walls and installed three brand new computers! Soon we will have a resource library complete with materials on parenting, childhood development, how to help children in school, and much more. Soon parents will be able to come to the parent room to hang out, get information about the school, use the internet, use the printer and copy machines, or attend workshops and meetings. We hope the room will be a great resource to Waverly parents!