Hampden Family Center gets a 'taste' of financial stability

When the Hampden Family Center revived the fundraising event A Taste of Hampden last October after an absence of many years, it marked a comeback for the struggling center from employee furloughs and the suspension of services.

Next week's A Taste of Hampden will find the 16-year-old center keeping its momentum.

"We are definitely in the black," announced Tom Finnerty, president of the center's board of directors.

The fundraiser is set for Oct. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the center, 1104 W. 36th St., where participating Hampden restaurants will serve up samplings of their local fare. Tickets are $30.

Thirteen eateries have signed up so far, Executive Director Elisa Ghinger said.

Proceeds will benefit the center, whose mission is to "enrich the lives of Hampden residents though education and professional support, and to encourage individual growth and community fellowship," according to its website, http://www.hampdenfamilycenter.org.

The center's services and programs include:

• adult literacy classes in partnership with the Greater Homewood Community Corp., in an area with a high school dropout rate of nearly 14 percent, according to the website.

• food stamps and other services to eligible residents, including help with paying utilities.

• Story Time for toddlers and their families, after-school enrichment in the arts and Study Buddy after-school tutoring and homework help, using volunteers from Towson and Johns Hopkins universities, as well as Goucher College.

• a youth photography program and a recording studio.

• luncheons and computer classes for seniors.

The center's budget this year is $402,000, up $20,000 from last year.

The center has a partnership with the Maryland Institute College of Art, which provides an AmeriCorps worker, and with the University of Maryland School of Social Work, which provides three interns.

The center also has several new board members, one of whom is a social worker, Ghinger said.

The center did a blood drive Oct. 12 to support the Medstar blood bank and had a health fair at Hampdenfest last month in partnership with Union Memorial Hospital.

The center is also partnering again with Calvert School on a toy drive as part of the center's holiday party for the needy.

Other partners range from Boys' Latin School to the Hampden Village Merchants Association.

"I think it was a year of enhancing partnerships," Ghinger said.

The family center staff of five is at full strength, including a new coordinator of children's programs, Meghan Collins.

The center this year signed a new long-term lease, Finnerty and Ghinger said. And they said they are getting grants from foundations, including the Weinberg Foundation.

The family center is also planning new initiatives, such as a High School Choice Night, to show families as many as 67 options for sending their children to high school in the city.

Ghinger knows that although times are better for the center, the demands on it are growing in a recession.

"The need for services is increasing," she said.

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