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Strong City Baltimore is getting a new home, but its mission is the same

Construction workers earlier this year at the former site of the The A. Hoen & Co Lithograph building in East Baltimore, which has been rehabbed as the new headquarters for the nonprofit Strong City Baltimore.
Construction workers earlier this year at the former site of the The A. Hoen & Co Lithograph building in East Baltimore, which has been rehabbed as the new headquarters for the nonprofit Strong City Baltimore.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

More than 50 years ago, a group of anchor institutions and residents in north-central Baltimore organized with the goal of strengthening the neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus and stemming white flight. After the 1968 civil unrest, these efforts took on more urgency and led to the creation of a new nonprofit organization, Greater Homewood Community Corporation.

That nonprofit, now called Strong City Baltimore, has shown remarkable staying power — often adapting in response to changing needs but never losing its focus on building and strengthening neighborhoods and people. Now, after a half-century in Charles Village, we are embarking on our biggest change yet as we relocate in the coming days to our new home at the The A. Hoen & Co Lithograph building in East Baltimore’s Collington Square community. This impending move has raised understandable questions about whether Strong City is giving up its work in north-central Baltimore. The answer is a resounding no.

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We can have citywide impact without forgetting where we came from. For several decades, our activities were concentrated in the 40 or so neighborhoods of “Greater Homewood” — roughly from the Jones Falls Expressway to The Alameda, and from North Avenue to the Baltimore County line. In those communities, we worked with many partners to support local leaders, write neighborhood plans, strengthen schools, eliminate vacant housing and provide other services. But we never ignored the rest of Baltimore.

For 30 years, our Adult Learning Center has provided free classes to thousands of adults around the city seeking to improve their lives. The intergenerational Experience Corps program, when we ran it, was located in 23 schools at its height and for decades our AmeriCorps VISTA service members fanned out across Baltimore to fight poverty. About 10 years ago, we launched a fiscal sponsorship program that now supports more than 100 community-based organizations and leaders in all corners of the city and beyond. Our community organizing and neighborhood support work will now add a focus on our new home in East Baltimore, but our roots in Greater Homewood run deep and many things that we do will not change.

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For example, we will still operate the 29th Street Community Center in the heart of north-central and serve as administrator of the Healthy Neighborhoods program for Charles Village/Harwood, Remington, Ednor Gardens and the Waverlies. Likewise, we will continue to staff the Margaret Brent, Guilford, and Govans public schools with community school coordinators. We are looking to continue our community building work that has helped bridge racial and class divides across York Road and we are still the community partner for the city’s Greenmount Avenue LINCS initiative (Leveraging Investments in Neighborhood Corridors). Our fiscal sponsorship program supports several neighborhood associations in north-central Baltimore.

We have many friends and partners in these communities, and those relationships will continue. For any organization, staying relevant means knowing when to evolve. These times call for heightened attention to historically disinvested and racially redlined areas of Baltimore, such as Broadway East and Collington Square. We hope that we can make a difference there, repairing some of the damage done over decades by offering support, empowering local leaders and building on existing assets.

The Hoen building was abandoned for nearly 40 years after the printing company that occupied it went out of business. Our presence, starting in January, will breathe new life into the building — and, we hope, the neighborhood, which is challenged by high levels of disinvestment and vacancy. We have spent three years building relationships with community leaders and residents there, and in 2017 we assumed operation of The Club at Collington Square, a highly effective after-school program around the corner from the Hoen Building. This move has been a long time coming.

Our rented building on Charles Street is too small, and our adult learners, currently housed in the church basement next door, deserve a more appropriate space with modern facilities. As we look to the future, it is important to be in a place where we can eventually stop paying rent and become owners — on the road to long-term sustainability and greater financial independence. Strong City’s core belief is that Baltimore is made stronger by supporting community-based initiatives and leaders. We also believe in the interconnectedness of all our city’s communities.

North-central Baltimore will benefit from the work we plan to do in Collington Square because we rise and fall together — in the end, a stronger East Baltimore means a stronger city for all Baltimoreans. That is our goal, and our hope, in the new neighborhood and new decade that await us.

Karen D. Stokes (kstokes@strongcitybaltimore.org) is the CEO of Strong City Baltimore.

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