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Hopkins initiative helps fund renovations to Charles Village schools

Greater Homewood also a member of partnership to help struggling communities

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

2:16 PM EDT, August 28, 2013

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A new partnership led by Johns Hopkins University to help struggling communities in north Baltimore is already paying big dividends — $1.6 million to renovate Barclay and Margaret Brent elementary/middle schools in Charles Village.

"I didn't know they had that much money," marveled Taila Garrison, a sixth grader at Margaret Brent.

There's more where that came from. Hopkins in December launched the $10 million Homewood Community Partners Initiative to "reinvigorate" 10 neighborhoods near the Homewood campus — including Charles Village, Abell, Oakenshawe and Remington — in hopes of attracting 3,000 more families to live in the area over the next 10 years.

In one of the first tangible results of the initiative, Hopkins contributed $400,000 each to Margaret Brent and Barclay, and the school system matched that money, enabling the schools to replace dated restrooms, renovate their cafeterias, install windows and doors and improve entranceways.

The Greater Homewood Community Corp., which strives to strengthen 40 communities in north and central Baltimore, played a coordinating role to bring together Hopkins, the school system, parents and community leaders for the renovation projects.

Greater Homewood over the past three years has leveraged about $3 million in resources to upgrade six schools in north Baltimore academically and physically. Greater Homewood also operates the 29th Street Community Center, formerly the city's Barclay Recreation Center, which is located next door to the Barclay school.

Representatives of Hopkins, Greater Homewood and the school system spotlighted the renovations during a press conference Wednesday at Margaret Brent. They told the Messenger that another public school in Charles Village, Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary is being considered for similar renovations.

"This is only the beginning," said Karen DeCamp, director of neighborhood programs for Greater Homewood.

Dignitaries on hand at the press conference included Hopkins President Ronald Daniels, City Council members Carl Stokes and Mary Pat Clarke, interim school system CEO Tisha Edwards, and Greater Homewood Executive Director Karen Stokes.

Daniels said that although retail and workforce development also strengthen communities, "we understand that children are the foundation of everything — and certainly the future e have to sow to make sure our children have every chance to flourish.""

"We are off to a fabulous school year because of you," said Stokes.

Stephanie Sterling, a member of the Village Parents, a support group for Charles Village public schools, said parents are grateful for the help.

"We have a lot of great ideas," she said, "but limited resources."

"This was taking a lot of little resources and making big things happen," said Edwards. "This is an example of what a community can and should do on behalf of its children."

Also impressed was Taila, who returned for the first day of school Monday to find first-floor renovations that include a gleaming, new-look cafeteria and entranceway. Taila was one of the speakers at the press conference and told the audience that the first floor used to look "boring."

"The paint was chipping from old age and people picking at it," she said. "Now, it looks like a new place. I think it's beautiful."