By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun
6:46 PM EDT, September 30, 2011
A long-neglected mansion on the city's west side has been restored to its 19th-century grandeur so that it can provide a home and hope for homeless women.
Dozens of volunteers have adopted rooms in the 8,000-square-foot Victorian, built in 1893 by the owner of a Baltimore tugboat company. They swept away years of abandonment, sanded floors, painted walls, restored stained-glass windows, repaired fireplaces and polished the fixtures. They have rebuilt the kitchen, added new bathrooms and donated linens, handmade quilts and every stick of furniture — save for the few pieces that came with the house.
Making the 23-room house beautiful again is a metaphor for the transformation its newest residents should undergo within its walls, said Jeanne Allert, director of the Samaritan Women.
"All of this will bring health, healing and hope to those women in need," she said in announcing a gala opening set for Saturday.
In addition to this gracious house for about 16 homeless women, "all of this" includes the city's largest urban farm, acres of woodland and a smaller home for offices, as well as a culinary arts training program.
Allert expects the first women, likely veterans of the armed services who are now homeless, to move in by Thanksgiving. They will stay about two years as they put their lives back together and acquire skills that should ensure them an income.
"We want them to leave here with a certification that shows they have the training and ability to work," she said.
The Samaritan Women will also serve women referred by the Department of Homeland Security, many of them rescued from human trafficking, Allert said.
She founded the organization nearly four years ago and set to work on planting a third of its tillable property. The bounty from the land has gone to area soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters. Allert wants to ensure the city's neediest have a steady supply of fresh foods.
Some produce — everything from arugula to zucchini — makes it to the organization's weekly farmers' market and to retirement homes in the area. These sales pay for seeds, plants, tools and chicken feed for the resident egg producers. They have also helped fund a 120-foot-long greenhouse that will extend the growing season.
"We started with dirt and rocks, and now we are cranking out food like crazy," Allert said.
Ben O'Donnell, farm manager, has reaped a large harvest this season. He just planted fall greens and is about to gather the last of the root vegetables. The greenhouse is planted with rows of peas, spinach and romaine lettuce.
He looks forward to assistance from the new residents and feels certain they will find satisfaction in the work. These culinary students will have only to go into the backyard to gather class materials. They will also plant, tend and harvest crops.
"Seeing something grow is part of the life cycle," he said. "It has a beautiful impact and gives you a purpose, where you might not have had one."
He looks out on tilled fields and sees thriving beehives and a new berry vineyard. He envisions an orchard.
"All we need is an electric fence to keep the deer population away," he said.
Volunteers have helped The Samaritan Women since its founding in 2007, including a high school football team that cleared land, university students who donate their spring breaks and those who just wander in with offers to help. One particularly engaged volunteer, Jessica Maltman, took some time off for travel after graduating from University of South Florida last spring. On a visit to friends in Baltimore, she learned about The Samaritan Women. She has been volunteering ever since and has twice canceled her flight home to Tampa.
"I understand the personal struggles these women who will live here have been through," she said. "I know they will leave here after an empowering journey with opportunity ahead of them."
Allert will usher visitors into the home at a gala benefit Saturday. The evening includes music by members of the U.S. Army Band, a silent auction and a dinner that features many dishes made from the recent harvest. This program and those dishes are just a taste of what is to come, said Allert.
Allert said she cannot wait to show off the parlor, library, modernized kitchen and the space that will soon be made into a commercial kitchen and classroom.
"I just saw the mural and writing on the kitchen wall," said Emma Runge, 12, who was helping out on a day off from school Thursday. "It is just amazing."
An artist painted a cornucopia brimming with all manner of vegetables above the kitchen's brick fireplace. Above it, she wrote, in a bold script, words from Scripture:
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
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