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'We are a village’: A new youth center represents hope for the future in West Baltimore

In the Rosemont neighborhood of Baltimore, a video plays on a flat-screen television on the second floor of a church, at first displaying images of children and young adults in distress over ominous music.

It’s the ribbon cutting for the Agape Youth Center at the John Wesley United Methodist Church, a yearlong project to renovate the second floor of the church into a viable youth center with spaces for a library, games and movies.

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But for all the playful imagery the scene evokes — orange and blue walls line the center while kids jockey for position on the couches in front of the television — those who have spent the past year getting it open say it’s about a serious battle in Baltimore.

“Our children are under attack,” said Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach, pastor of the church and the founder of the youth center.

“I’m exhausted seeing headlines about another child’s sad story or an obituary of a child whose birthday starts within [the] 2000s and ends in 2019,” she added. “We need a solution.”

The youth center’s unveiling in the North Avenue church in West Baltimore was a community-themed event, as parents and children mixed with officials from the church and councilmen Brandon Scott and Bill Henry.

“I’d rather see a youth center on every corner than a liquor store on every corner."


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Carter-Rimbach said the center was created out of an old storage space at the church. Venturing around the second floor, you’ll see makeshift spaces for reading, games and crafts.

She added that the project was done entirely by volunteers, something the elected officials in attendance noted when speaking to the audience.

“We spend over half a billion dollars every year on a police department that seems to be dedicated to catching our kids after they’ve gone wrong,” Henry said.

“And we don’t spend anywhere near what we should be spending, giving our kids the opportunities that they need so that they can grow up strong and be functioning members of our society. I am so glad that when government has not done everything it should do, that church and community step up and start to fill in the gaps. But I’m not going to say that lets government off the hook.”

Scott, the Council president, touted the work his office did during this year’s budgetary process, saying he’d helped secure $3.4 million in additional funding to go to the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

“But that’s still not enough, and we’re going to continue to push the envelope,” he said.

On the wall next to the stairs that lead up to the youth center, a “Wishlist” details the center’s expansive ambitions. For an old building, officials want an elevator to make the center more accessible for those with disabilities, in addition to the various board games, electronics and books they hope people will donate.

Some elected officials in attendance pledged to contribute, as Scott promised to give computers and several others donated money.

Before the officials cut the ribbon on the center — which Carter-Rimbach said has been open for a few weeks — Patrick Nemons, a board member and media coordinator with The Agape Youth Foundation, spoke about the surrounding area and its needs.

A walk down North Avenue near the church reveals a surrounding community of bail bondsmen, convenience stores and fast food restaurants interspersed with abandoned properties and buildings. The church is across the street from a public library, where a group of young and old adults began to congregate outside while those inside the church toured the new youth center.

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“I’d rather see a youth center on every corner than a liquor store on every corner,” Nemons said to applause from the audience.

He added that this is an opportunity to “give back to our new future” in a constructive way.

“Be part of that old adage where we used to say ‘We are a village,’ ” he said.

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