The unexpected offer of temporary use of a small storefront at 827 Frederick Road has raised the profile of Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation in the Catonsville community, even as the local nonprofit celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
Headquarters for the nonprofit, which has become a fixture locally and nationally for supplying respite housing for families with critically ill children, is a stone building at 6601 Frederick Road.
But the foundation's bright orange-and-white sign there is easy to miss as motorists navigate the heavy traffic in the area just east of the Beltway interchange.
The large, colorful posters advertising the foundation at 827 Frederick Road grab the attention of motorists and shoppers on Catonsville's Main Street as they pass the windows of what had been the AWOL A Way Of Life skateboard shop.
The storefront between the You Scream Ice Cream shop and Catonsville Gourmet restaurant on Frederick Road had been left vacant when the skateboard shop moved across the street.
"I have gotten more people commenting on that," said Brian Morrison, the foundation's founder and chief executive officer, on the reaction of residents and visitors to the display, which is scheduled to end July 1.
The foundation plans to open a store selling a variety of miscellaneous items as an "indoor yard sale" on Saturdays, Morrison said, providing volunteers can be found to staff the shop.
Morrison credited Catonsville developer Craig Witzke, who owns the commercial property, with providing the space before Witzke's new tenant moves in.
"I had never really thought about doing something like that," Morrison said.
Witzke said an April 14 event for the Pottery Cove's grand opening at 825 Frederick Road in Witzke's Strawberry Fields property also marked the opening of Believe in Tomorrow's store.
"If you stop people in Catonsville and say, 'Believe in Tomorrow,' they'll say, 'Who?'. But they're nationally known," Witzke said. "Look at this wonderful organization we have in our neighborhood. This (providing the storefront) is really just a billboard for them."
His 30 years at the helm of the foundation have been an education for Morrison, a Catonsville native, who left his administrative position with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to start Believe in Tomorrow.
"It's been absolutely amazing," he said. "And now, we are about to enter a whole new phase of growth. I feel our most important work is just ahead of us, even though we are doing some amazingly exciting things right now."
The foundation provides a home away from home at two facilities in Baltimore for families of critically ill children receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
At those facilities, community groups and Baltimore restaurants alternate cooking and serving dinner for the families, most of whom are from out of state.
The Catonsville Men's Civic Association is among those groups.
"They are extraordinary," Morrison said. "They go all out. They provide great dinners and great company for the families."
Witzke, a member of the association, knows firsthand the positive impact the foundation can have on a family trying to cope with devastating news after his daughter underwent brain surgery at Hopkins earlier this year.
"Believe in Tomorrow provided her with a lot of items that made her stay in the hospital much more comfortable," he said.
"The whole experience was enlightening, the way people supported her, having Believe in Tomorrow, being so close to Hopkins," said Witzke, whose daughter has recovered. "There is nowhere we would rather be than in Catonsville."
For those families with critically ill children who want to get away for a vacation, Believe in Tomorrow owns properties in Ocean City (Md.), Fenwick Island (Del.), Deep Creek (Md.) and Asheville (N.C.).
"They used to be season-oriented. But that disappeared a number of years ago. They are, many times, a destination unto itself," said Morrison, on the steady stream of families taking advantage of the opportunity to get away to the beach or mountains, regardless of the weather.
"We have put so many amenities into them, that our occupancy level has increased," he said. "Families have realized, and the medical community has realized, that when you are searching for peace and relaxation, you can find it throughout the year."
The foundation, which has 29 employees, plans to expand to the Palm Beach area of Florida and near San Antonio, Texas, in the future.
Those areas coincide with the foundation's priority of providing military families with a place to recharge when a child is being treated for cancer or another serious disease.
In addition to its affiliation with the Professional Bull Riding Association, which gives kids and their families a chance to meet the bull riders and see them in competition, the foundation also offers a unique opportunity to fly in a commercial blimp.
Children and their families can take a ride in the Met Life Snoopy I or Snoopy II blimps or the DirecTV blimp.
The experiences are part of the foundation's goal to have children focus on tomorrow.
"We're looking to do something to ignite their imagination," Morrison said. "So they go from a sick child focused on treatment to having something so exciting in their life that it drives them to look forward."