Baltimore has a new place to seek help when there’s been a death in the family. It’s called Roberta’s House, a recently completed building on East North Avenue that is a place of refuge for those coping with loss, death of a parent or grandparent, a stillborn child, a friend or father lost to homicide.
The $14 million building is funded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, as well as the state of Maryland and private foundations and donors.
The structure is designed in brick with a corner turret reminiscent of 1890s rowhouses found in this neighborhood, in Reservoir Hill and Charles Village. It faces the rolling contours and stone wall of Green Mount Cemetery.
The roomy interior is inviting, with a children’s wing and an adult wing. Each has individual rooms for separate functions. There’s an expression room for children and adults to release anger and frustration. It has padded walls and punching bag.
There’s also a cheerful theater, and a meditation garden is being planned.
“I can’t wait to get people in here to see how they receive it after the pandemic subsides,” said Annette March-Grier, the director.
By design, Roberta’s House is a part of an established community — the old Baltimore neighborhood called East Baltimore Midway.
This has been a highly personal 14-year journey for March-Grier. She was born at this corner when it served as her parents’ March Funeral Home family. Her mother, Roberta March, is remembered as a nurturing matriarch among Baltimore’s African American funeral directors.
For years, March-Grier ran grief counseling programs when she could find space in a church basement. She had rented quarters on St. Paul Street and since the pandemic has established teams to work remotely.
“I wanted to get the word out it was OK to reach out for help,” she said. “Baltimore City was severely underserved. There were no bereavement resources available for children and adults experiencing deaths or traumatic deaths.”
Roberta’s House is designed to be the place where people gather days, weeks after a tragedy to gain solace.
“We serve many who have experienced traumatic deaths. We get referrals from Baltimore City schools, social workers, and other behavioral institutions. We also get word-of-mouth and the church community,” she said.
“It’s taken years to get to the reality state,” said Milton A. Dugger Jr., one of Roberta’s House’s board members. “It was a vision and a dream, and now it is more than I ever imagined.”
March-Grier tells how parents and grandparents seek emotional assistance.
“We deal with the children who watched a parent be shot to death; the grandparents who raised a child, only to see their grandbaby die of a crime or disease; or the multiple deaths, spanning generations, that will curse a family in a brief period,” she said.
She and her brothers, Erich and Victor March, were raised at 928 E. North Ave., where Roberta’s House now stands. The entire March family came together to support her expansive vision.
“I would sit upstairs and listen to my mother,” March-Grier said. “She was the most tender person in the world. Her ability to deal with a grieving family was amazing. For the premature babies, she’d buy baby doll clothes. When the mother walked in, the baby would look like an angel.
“At Roberta’s House, we have a Project Hope program for mothers who have lost an infant to miscarriage or is stillborn,” she said. “The other large program is for homicide survivors.”
She said her initial goal was $3 million for her dream. Reality pushed the cost to $14 million, and local philanthropies assisted her — the Abell, Blaustein, Hackerman and Weinberg foundations, Care First, the New York Life Foundation and the Moyer Foundation.
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“Unresolved grief is causing children, teens and adults to be severely wounded, emotionally and spiritually,” she said.