Pastor David Franklin has a vision for an affordable early childhood education center where young children can thrive in West Baltimore.
However, the pastor of Miracle City Church lacked marketing and real-estate experience and was not prepared for navigating potential zoning issues or other challenges associated with opening the center at his church on Rock Glen Road. After completing a six-month training course through the University of Baltimore and the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, he's now equipped with a development plan he can show investors and the skills to navigate the process.
"It's just broadened our horizons," he said Saturday after a graduation ceremony for the certificate program at UB's Student Center on Mount Royal Avenue. Franklin, other Miracle City Church representatives and leaders from two other churches gave final presentations on their individual development plans Saturday before earning their certificates.
Many churches have the vision and understand the needs of their communities but might lack the skills to successfully implement those plans, said David Bowers, vice president and Mid-Atlantic market leader for Enterprise.
That's why Enterprise has been offering the training for the past decade to help them learn how to do it. This year the nonprofit partnered with the University of Baltimore to strengthen the program. Bowers said it will act as a catalyst for positive change in each of the communities they serve.
"It's a real multiplier effect," said Ann Cotten, the director of the Schaefer Center for Public Policy at UB.
"We're thrilled to be a part of this," she said. "We think it's really inspiring."
Bowers credits the churches' long-term commitments to the communities they serve. He noted that after the rioting last April following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, many came to the city wanting to help make it better. Many systemic issues afflicting Baltimore cannot be changed overnight, and require efforts by groups that have a long-term stake in improving the city.
"There's a lot of need in Baltimore," he said. "One institution is not going to fix all of our problems."
Bowers noted, however, that the training program equipped the faith-based groups with the tools to make changes in their community.
"Brick by brick, we can help rebuild the city," he said.
Each group had to dedicate class time and additional outside work on their projects, and pay a $1,000 fee.
"It says a lot about their commitment," he said.
Franklin said the program will help to expand upon the church's mission to not only provide weekly worship services, but also serve the city.
The child education center his church plans to open offers an opportunity to address immediate needs within the community and create positive change over time while improving the lives of children by reaching them early and providing them nutrition training, academic assistance, and inspiration to become civic-minded citizens. Franklin said they plan to open the center in January 2018.
"We have to build people and the city," he said.
Before he could complete the program, he and the two other churches had to present their projects and answer questions from two people on the panel reviewing their plans, Colleen Green, a principal at Ashley Builders LLC, and Linda Sorden with the Enterprise Community Loan Fund.
They questioned Franklin and members of his group about their project, including whether there was enough interest in the community for an education center, whether it would be affordable and whether it would be accessible by public transportation.
Sorden praised Miracle City for their presentation, which included information about the surrounding communities, but said she'd like to see more work on the group's preliminary financial statement. The group was still waiting to receive additional feedback from consultants.
Green suggested they "dig a little bit more into the market information." She said that if the group wants to reach a broad swath of the community, they might have to lower the fees parents would have to pay for their children to attend. She suggested they look into additional grant funding.
Franklin said the presentation was a little nerve-wracking but made him better prepared for advancing the project.
"We're walking in the door with 120 pages of a development plan," he said. And "confidence."