September 20, 2010

Serving the East Baltimore community, one project at a time

Volunteer Kirk Higdon, husband of staff member Sheila Higdon, repairs a chair.

This summer, a large contingent of Johns Hopkins staff and faculty rolled up their sleeves to help beautify four East Baltimore schools over a one-month period.

At the Wolfe Street Academy, a public charter elementary school, participants painted seven classrooms, a cafeteria and a hallway. Volunteers at the East Baltimore Community School, also a charter, cleaned nearly all surfaces, coded and set up the school’s new library and repaired broken desks, chairs and bookshelves.

In total, 40 Johns Hopkins volunteers, alongside nearly 40 community members, made a sizable impact on the four schools, which also included Tench Tilghman Elementary School and the Dr. Raynor Browne Academy.

The school revitalization project was organized by the Office of Community Services, a division of the Johns Hopkins Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs. For the past 20 years, the office, funded by the Johns Hopkins Health System, has sponsored hundreds of volunteer projects in East Baltimore, such as park cleanups, mentoring programs, food drives, after-school programs and others.

Pamela Bechtel, the office’s community projects coordinator, said that the staff looks for projects based on need.

“We regularly attend neighborhood meetings and engage with community groups and individuals, inquiring about how we can help and the needs of the area,” Bechtel said. “We help directly where we can, and also help connect the community to the right resources and groups if we don’t provide the direct service.”

The office has partnerships with East Baltimore Development Inc., the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Operation P.U.L.S.E. (People United to Live in a Safe Environment), the Baltimore City Public School System, the Baltimore City Police Department’s Eastern District and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks.

Community Services organizes roughly 20 projects per year, with one or two ongoing each month in a campaign it calls Community Works! Volunteers for East Baltimore. Bechtel said that the office is continually looking for new volunteers and projects, which are open to all Johns Hopkins faculty, staff and students, and community residents.

Tom Lewis, vice president for government and community affairs, said that Johns Hopkins is a large and critical part of the community and the economy of East Baltimore—which entails an inherent social responsibility.

“Johns Hopkins has worked diligently for many years to be a good neighbor,” Lewis said. “Over time, and in partnership with the East Baltimore community, the Office of Community Affairs has worked with the many parts of Johns Hopkins to share our collective resources. And together with our partners in the community, we have worked to become agents of hope, empowerment and positive change.”

Through Oct. 1, the office will put on a Books for Baltimore drive for new and gently used books of all reading levels. Donated books will benefit Baltimore area schools and senior centers. Drop-off bins are located at various Johns Hopkins locations, including the Arthur Friedheim Library at the Peabody Institute, the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center on the Homewood campus, the Davis Building on the Mount Washington campus, Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point, and the 550 Building and The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Patient Library on the East Baltimore campus.

In October, the office will organize a reading program in which Johns Hopkins faculty and staff will go to several East Baltimore schools to read to students, drop off book donations and give students Halloween goody bags. Later this year, the office will put on a holiday gift-giving drive and a Turkeys and Trimmings program for area senior centers and the Bea Gaddy Family Center.

The office also sponsors ongoing programs such as the Community Science Education Program, whose mission is to promote science education among students attending Baltimore City Public Schools. In the program, Johns Hopkins faculty and staff help host science days, science fairs and a weeklong science camp at the university’s School of Medicine.

Earlier this year, the Office of Community Services, in conjunction with the Whiting School’s Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, started the City Springs Science Outreach Program, which exposes fifth-graders at City Springs Elementary School to the wonders of science. Two DoGEE faculty members visited the East Baltimore school monthly, leading hourlong science sessions in which they unraveled basic science principles, such as water tension and electricity, through simple and lively experiments and demonstrations.

Community Services’ school-based projects are eligible for the Johns Hopkins Takes Time for Schools program, which offers full-time benefits-eligible university staff up to two days per year of paid leave to pursue service opportunities in the Baltimore City public schools.

To view a calendar of the office’s events and to sign up, go to www
.org. For more information, contact Bechtel at or 410-614-0744.