Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Supporter Stories: Interview with Mark Counselman

GHCC: Tell us a bit about yourself

Mark Counselman: Susie and I live in Oakenshawe with our three sons. I work for RCM&D, a local insurance firm; Susie works at St. Agnes Hospital in southwest Baltimore. We got involved in the Oakenshawe Improvement Association when we moved here 7 years ago, and now we're the co-presidents. We've enjoyed rolling up our sleeves to help on neighborhood projects and meeting great neighbors.

GHCC: Are you a Baltimore native?

MC: I grew up on Wickford Road, and now we live on Oakenshawe Place. So I haven't made it very far in life, about a half mile east on University Parkway. When we came back to Baltimore from Chicago, we looked for a neighborhood where everything was within walking distance - grocery stores, places to eat, parks. Oakenshawe has that, plus it's about halfway between our offices and close enough that I can bike to work or take the bus.

GHCC: When did you first discover Greater Homewood Community Corporation and what prompted you to become a supporter of our work?

MC: I first learned about GHCC when I got involved with the Jones Falls Watershed Association, a group born as a project of GHCC, and which recently celebrated a merger and creation of city-wide environmental powerhouse Blue Water Baltimore.

Like most neighborhood associations, the Oakenshawe Improvement Association is a volunteer group. GHCC has been a key partner when we need professional expertise or heavy lifting beyond our capacity. A recent example: GHCC is helping us handle funds to establish our Brentwood Avenue Garden project.
More often than not, our neighborhood issues are not unique. GHCC has been a conduit for us to get to know our counterparts in Waverly, Abell, Tuscany Canterbury, or any other of the 45 neighborhoods GHCC serves who in many cases are working on similar projects or challenges. From those relationships, our associations have been able to work together on a range of issues, whether that's protesting a problem liquor establishment, or rehabbing our neighborhood firehouse. Also, the staff at GHCC is a great resource. When we have a challenge or need help with a City agency, there's usually someone at GHCC who we can call for advice or to get the inside story.

GHCC: Why do you believe it's important for individuals to support a nonprofit like GHCC?

MC: We're all pulled in myriad directions, from disasters overseas to supporting our schools and colleges, to the squeeze felt in every household during this difficult economy, but our neighborhoods are the basic building blocks of community, of society. It's at the neighborhood level where we can make the most impact. Baltimore faces tremendous challenges as we continue to lose population. Unless we make real, structural changes that strengthen our neighborhoods, we're not going to bring middle class families back to the city. That vision and leadership isn't going to come from City Hall or Washington or the Internet, but from groups like GHCC with feet on the ground addressing neighborhood issues head on.

GHCC: What do you love most about living in Greater Homewood?

MC: Our morning circuit with the kids includes coffee from Eddie's (or Carma's or Donna's), a stroll through the Wyman Park Dell with a stop at the playground, visiting the lions at the BMA, then on to JHU to check out the fountain at Mason Hall, the fish pond by the Hopkins Club, and the animal sculptures in Dunning Grove, Camel one hump or two. How many more great places could you want on your morning walk? Of course, we could stand to clean it up a little (OK, a lot), fix up a few houses, and open a restaurant or two...and that's why we need GHCC.

Images courtesy of Mark Counselman and the Oakenshawe Improvement Association

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scrabble Party 2011

Check out these wonderful photographs, taken by Adult Literacy tutor and Advisory Board Member Marilyn Gould, of GHCC's 10th Annual Scrabble Party!

Media Roundup: GHCC's Neighborhood Institute

GHCC received some wonderful coverage of our 4th Annual Neighborhood Institute! Check out this article in The Baltimore Messenger, or watch this video, posted on North Baltimore Patch. Image courtesy of Karen Jackson.

Save the Date!

On June 11, 2011, GHCC will host north central Baltimore's first ever neighborhood softball tournament - A Day to Play - at Roland Park Country School from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Join your neighbors for a day of fun, games, and great food!

For a flat rate of $250 you can enter your own team of up to 15 players (minimum of 9players required). Neighborhoods, churches, community associations, businesses, and friends can all sign up for a team. Package includes entry into round-robin games, team t-shirts, and water bottles.

Stay tuned for more details or contact Katie McNeely at 410.261.3507 or kmcneely@greaterhomewood.org.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Play Scrabble for a Good Cause

For nine years, participants in GHCC's Scrabble® Fundraiser for Literacy have gathered in the spirit of fun and games to support a good cause – fighting adult illiteracy in Baltimore City. This year marks the event’s tenth anniversary and with an estimated 100 players planning to attend, promises to be the best one yet with live music, a silent auction, food, beer, wine, and fun.

Over the years, the Scrabble® Fundraiser for Literacy has been attended by a wide range of Scrabble® lovers and even reunited friends and neighbors who had no idea of each other's dedication to GHCC's Adult Literacy & ESOL Program. GHCC recently caught up with veteran player and former literacy tutor Nancy Spritz, who fondly remembers the Scrabble® parties of years past and also talks a bit about why she continues to support the work we do.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to the Adult Literacy & ESOL Program.

I became an Adult Literacy volunteer tutor several years ago and continued for a few years. Unfortunately, I had to stop volunteering, but I have remained very supportive of GHCC

You’ve participated in the Annual Scrabble Fundraiser for Literacy since it started in 2002 (only missing two years!). What keeps you coming back each year?

I love Scrabble and I love reading, so I feel strongly about developing literacy for adult learners—what a perfect combination and what a great way to raise money for a worthwhile cause! So much better than going to a fancy charity dinner!

What was the most inspirational moment in all your years of participating in this event?

Seeing so many people—more and more each year—dedicated to this cause, doing something intellectual, and having a great time, too. And the competitive Scrabble players are also awesome and inspirational—I can’t get close to their level!

What is your favorite memory from past years of the Scrabble Fundraiser (if it’s different)?

I won the 50/50 raffle two years in a row! Also, my 87 year old mother came with me for several years, and my son joined me a few times too.

What would you say to anyone considering attending the event as a player/participant?

You don’t have to be a good or even regular Scrabble player; there are all levels of players and everyone there will be patient and kind about your abilities. You’ll meet people from all walks of life, do something different and educational, and in the process you’ll support a meaningful, worthwhile, important organization that makes Baltimore City a better place!

As the first participant to register for the Scrabble Party, what do you look forward to with this year’s anniversary celebration?

More and more interesting people, good food, stimulating wordplay, and neat prizes. I always look forward to seeing the people that I met in the first few years, like the sweet little ladies from the Liberty Road Senior Center who can beat the pants off me!

Our goal this year is to raise $10,000 in support of the Literacy Program. What would you say to encourage anyone considering a donation or sponsorship?

You will be contributing to a hands-on organization which helps individuals directly and substantially, and you can be assured that your limited charitable dollars will be doing the greatest good.

Hope to see you there!

Come and play on Saturday, March 26 at Calvert School's atrium. We'll host informal pickup games from 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. and two competetive formal rounds for prizes. Tickets are $50 per player ($40 for students or 62+). All proceeds support GHCC's Adult Literacy & ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Program. Register here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Voices for Community Schools: Gia Grier McGinnis

Last week, Community Schools advocates packed City Council chambers for an Education Committee hearing about cuts to the initiative proposed in next year’s city budget. Greater Homewood Voices just caught up with one of those who spoke out in support of Community Schools at the hearing: Gia Grier McGinnis, Assistant Director with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Concern.

The Community Schools initiative requires an investment of just over $1 million in public funding through the Family League of Baltimore City each year. Full-time Site Coordinators at Community Schools leverage that investment to bring the goodness of the community into the school, netting $8.5 million in enrichment services to address students' real-life needs. These services range from health screenings to dance classes to after-school tutoring, and they help children thrive personally and academically. GHCC manages three Community Schools in Greater Homewood: Barclay, Guilford, and Waverly Elementary/Middle Schools.

GHV: Tell us a little bit about your role with JHU and the relationship the Center for Social Concern has with GHCC's Community Schools.

Gia: The Center for Social Concern (CSC) is the main hub for direct service to Baltimore City on the JHU Homewood campus. We have 30 programs that work with youth in Baltimore City Public Schools, with a concentration of programs at two GHCC Community Schools: Barclay and Waverly Elementary/Middle Schools. Programs at those schools include dance, Girl Scouts, soccer, creative writing, computer literacy, cooking classes, health education, and environmental education.

Students at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village participating in an after-school ballet program sponsored by the JHU Center for Social Concern.

GHV: What inspires you about these partnerships? What are some of the mutual benefits to the kids and the JHU students?

Gia: What I love about these community-campus collaborations is the significant learning and growing that happens on both sides of the program. Our students may not come in knowing much about Baltimore or working in a public school system, but have a wonderful talent they want to share. The students benefit by learning something new, and also by meeting a younger adult who can talk with them about their travels, organically learn about one another's cultures (for example, we have a larger Asian population than other campuses of our size), and what college is like. I think the experiences are eye-opening for all involved.

JHU Soccer Kids program at Waverly Elementary/Middle School

GHV: Why do you think community schools are important to Baltimore? What would happen to the programs the CSC supports if Community Schools funding went away?

Gia: The Community School resource takes a lot of pressure off of principals to budget time and funds for afterschool programming and other enrichment programs, especially in tight economic times. If Community Schools funding went away, I wouldn't say all of our programs would disappear, but I envision us having to scale back on how many programs we have at any one school. Right now student groups are asking to expand—we would not encourage that in any way if the proper supports (in this case, Community Schools) were not in place.

GHV: How did it feel to attend the Education Committee hearing last week and testify in support of an initiative you believe in?

Gia: I was very moved by the other panelists—there was a lot of passion in the room for this issue. I think we all feel this is important and should (hopefully) be a no-brainer for the City Council. The chambers were packed with supporters wearing red to show their support. One of the Council members remarked to me before the hearing that the usual crowd at these hearings is about 15 people, so the turnout should tell them something!

GHV: What did you tell City Council, and what do you think is important for everyone to know about Community Schools, especially as our elected officials near a decision on next year's budget?

Gia: Schools without this resource may leverage programs, but at a much slower rate and they struggle to do so consistently. Being able to reach out to GHCC’s Community School Site Coordinators has made things much easier for our office in terms of program allocation and management. I think an important point that several people echoed is that having a Community School Site Coordinator onsite often makes the crucial difference between a program happening and a program not happening.