Raymond A. Skinner: Over 35 years of revitalizing and rebuilding communities

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4 1968, cities across America experienced widespread looting and rioting in response to the Civil Rights leaders’ death. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where such civil unrest also took place, the events would have a profound impact on one young man’s career path.

“At the time I was a freshman attending Penn State University,” said Raymond A. Skinner. “After Dr. King’s death, there was rioting, and I could see and smell smoke billowing and rising from my home in North Philly. I started thinking about what I could do to rebuild my community and my city. I wanted to help redevelop Philadelphia.”

Skinner would achieve that goal, going on to become a City Planner for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Today, Skinner continues to rebuild and revitalize communities. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), where he manages the state’s housing finance, mortgage revenue bond, mortgage insurance, asset management, community development, and building code programs. He was appointed to the position in 2007 by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. He also served in the post under former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening.

“My overall responsibility is to provide the overall strategic direction for the agency, to provide guidance and leadership, set goals, and put together the organizational structure to achieve those goals,” said Skinner. “I oversee a staff of over 400, and am responsible for a budget of over $400 million.”

He added, “I get to do a lot of different things in many different areas such as housing, small business lending, and weatherization. I also get to travel around the state, and interact with a wide variety of people such as community partners, developers, non-profits, and elected officials. It’s challenging, but it is also very rewarding and stimulating.”

Skinner talked about the challenges of his position.

“One of the greatest challenges is finding the resources to do the work that we do,” said Skinner. “There is a great need for affordable housing as prices have risen since the recovery from the recession. However, at the same time, wages have stagnated and decreased, so there is a great mismatch for what people can afford. The challenge is having enough resources to meet the need.”

He added, “It’s a continuing challenge to be creative in order to be able to leverage the funds we do have, and getting additional funding through private sources. Another challenge is bringing people together to work towards a common goal such as helping small businesses to get loans to be able to expand their business. We see these challenges on a day-to-day basis.”

Skinner also talked about the rewards.

“I get rewarded every day,” said Skinner. “Some are simple things like seeing smiles on the faces of a first-time home buying family. Others are those moments when we do a ribbon cutting, and a senior citizen gives me a hug because we have provided them with a new shiny new housing unit. Being able to drive around and see a block of housing that we financed also make me feel good.”

A native of Philadelphia, PA, Skinner has more than 35 years of experience in a variety of positions including executive management at the highest levels of state and local government.

Skinner holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, he has completed the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University; holds a certificate in Real Estate Development from Harvard University; and has completed the Minority Developers Executive Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“My parents instilled the value of education, and encouraged me to read and talk about continuing my education and going to college,” said Skinner.

Before joining DHCD, Skinner held the positions of Director of Housing and Executive Director of the Housing Authority in Prince George’s County, MD. Between 1987 and 1990, he held the positions of Executive Director of the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development and Special Assistant to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. He has also worked as a City Planner for Baltimore, MD, as a Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also owned and operated two “Subway” sandwich shops.

Skinner said he is particularly proud of the programs that he has helped bring to fruition under the Governor O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown administration; developing the first land use plan in Washington, DC, initially done by federal agencies; and his work in the area of foreclosure prevention.

“I believe I have made a contribution,” said Skinner. “I love what I do, along with the fulfillment that comes along with helping to revitalize and rebuild communities.”

SheRose Gala Awards: Local organization honors survivors of sexual abuse

— April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and on Saturday, April 19, 2014, Open Door Fellowship hosted The SheRose Awards Gala in honor of unsung survivors of sexual abuse and violence.

Local educator, advocate, survivor, and founder of The SheRose Awards Gala, LaQuisha Hall, said, “It is important to our community that survivors of abuse know that there is someone advocating for them, that they know they are not alone, and that someone is standing for them during their lifelong healing process.”

The 2014 SheRose Awards Gala honorees included Dr. Cecelia Martin; Callie Keen; Alexus Hobbs; Tiffany Jeffers; Candace Saunders; and Phoenix Rising Baltimore, which is comprised of Sister Tracy, Reah Idris, and Nikasha Uqdah. During the evening’s festivities, honorees shared their personal experiences of resilience through their journey of healing and overcoming abuse. Honorees and other survivors in attendance were recognized during the gala as efforts to empower those who face sexual violence. The keynote speaker of the evening was abuse survivor, author and founder of The Invisible Sorority, Ty Johnson-Anderson. Viki Mohamed served as the Mistress of Ceremonies.

Hall’s personal story of resilience and surviving sexual abuse is evident in the work that she does to advocating for victims of abuse. In 2008, she founded a dynamic mentoring program for middle and high school girls as well as created a community, iEmpower. Aspire. Transform. (iEAT) to inspire women to live whole lives.

“We support this effort because we recognize that in order to empower and heal families, that we must first reach [people] one by one and take time to allow survivors’ stories to be heard,” said Pastor Joel Anderson of Open Door Fellowship and partnering sponsor of The SheRose Awards Gala. The gala helped to raise funds to further the advocacy and prevention of sexual abuse in the Baltimore metropolitan area, the state of Maryland, and nationally.

For more information about The SheRose Awards Gala and sexual abuse prevention, visit: www.sheroseawards.com.

Local teen author completes first novel

— Teen author Jeanne Luning Prak is pleased to announce that her first book, Fate’s Road, is now available.


(Courtesy photo)

A junior at Broadneck High School in Annapolis, Jeanne was inspired to begin writing her first novel during National Novel Writing Month.

Fate’s Road is set in the small, broken town of Grubindy and the magnificent metropolis of Crestriver. It explores the differences between two worlds: one governed by magic and Fate, and the other by greed and technology.

The book tells the story of Sorceress Sydney Halgren who has never seen the sun. She lives in an underground town with too little food and too much smoke. Everything changes when the magic disappears and she stumbles onto a plot to destroy not only magic itself but all the sorcerers who practice it. Sydney is forced to brave the world above her home in an attempt to free people from their underground existence.

When asked about the writing and publishing process, Jeanne said, “I have always enjoyed writing.The hardest part was revising and rewriting a number of drafts. I learned a lot when I researched the publishing industry, and decided that self-publishing was the best route for me. Now it is so exciting to finally see my book in print, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with everyone.”

Fate’s Road is available from Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.

Jeanne is already working on her second novel. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is on the swim team. Jeanne is in the process of considering colleges and plans to major in computer science.

For more information, visit the author’s blog or the Fate’s Road Facebook page.

A People United: Improving education in Nepal

Back in 2013, Robert Gruber, the owner of A People United collaborated with the Santi School Project with the goal of improving education in Nepal. Gruber was thrilled to receive the 2013 Humanitarian Award at The Maryland Fashion Awards for his work in educating Nepali children. His mission to help others began by being drafted in the Vietnam War.

After finishing law school after the war, he started a law practice with a group of friends to specialize in non-profit and cooperatives. Feeling as though his practice wasn’t giving him any satisfaction, Gruber found that he really enjoyed teaching law instead. Before coming to Baltimore to get a master’s degree in public health, he visited India and Nepal. He said, “It was like going back in time but I was very, very aware of how poor they were at the time and this was between 1985, or 86.” He decided to switch his major to Third World Public Health.

One day while driving to work on a sunny day he had an epiphany that he should work with women in India and Nepal to help send their kids to school. “I was very liberated. Even if you misstep a thousand times, but you go into something with enough passion it will work itself out.” Gruber first began by working with farming cooperatives but later focused on working with women in India and Nepal. That’s where he found his love for beading and fabrics, which took him Guatemala to study weaving techniques.

In 1990, he teamed up with a designer he met at a fashion show in Nepal to create great products. While wholesaling in America, he provided educational opportunities for children in Nepal. In time, the schools grew from fifteen students to two hundred and employed more staff, but progress was halted by Nepal’s Maoist Revolution and he moved his production to India.

Wanting to keep on the path of his mission, he found a group called Santi School Project and became a board member to help both sponsor and give money. “Our outlook is quite different. Instead of just trying to send a small group of kids to private school, we decided that we would work on improving the public schools throughout Nepal. That’s a pretty big task that we’re probably not going to be too successful, but that’s actually the goal.”

Despite challenges including children dropping out after 8th grade and low teacher pay, the Santi School Project continues to thrive. Gruber says he’s feels blessed to be able to help people across the world

“I’m not a religious person but I have always liked the phrase ‘Do your best and leave the rest to the Lord’ because all we can do is our best. I feel blessed being able to travel and see people living lives differently than mine,” he said.

Do you have abandoned funds at the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System?

— The Maryland State Retirement Agency is attempting to find nearly 26,000 former public employees who didn’t work long enough to vest for a state pension benefit and return the contributions they made to the system to them. The retirement agency has established a searchable database on its website. To start the claims process, search the database at: http://sra.maryland.gov/Participants/Members/Resources/UnclaimedFunds/

If you believe you have unclaimed funds with the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System you should follow these three steps:

·You must first check the online database to find your name and associated agency name of your former employer.

·Once you have obtained this information online, call a Retirement Benefits Specialist at 410-625-5555 or 800-492-5909 for confirmation.

·After verification with a Retirement Benefits Specialist, you can claim your funds by completing and submitting an Application for Withdrawal of Accumulated Contributions (Form 5).

There is no need to utilize the services of a third party agent to acquire these funds. This service is provided free by the Maryland State Retirement Agency.

Typically, when members separate from service before earning a future vested benefit, the agency makes every effort to contact the individuals and encourage them to withdraw any accumulated contributions they may have made to the system while they were employed. If contributions are not withdrawn within four years, they are considered abandoned and no longer accrue interest. These funds however, may be claimed at any time by the former member or his/her beneficiary or estate.

AIMA Men’s Ministry receives $500 donation at prayer breakfast

The Annapolis Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (AIMA) Men’s Ministry held its Quarterly Prayer Breakfast on March 29, 2014 at Mt. Moriah AME Church in Annapolis. Over 80 men attended the event and were treated to an excellent breakfast and a special message from Rick Anthony, director of Recreation and Parks for Anne Arundel County.


(Courtesy photo)

AIMA presented a certificate and AIMA t-shirt to Rick Anthony. (L-r): George Redd, Morgan Smith, Clifton Johnson, Rick Anthony, Terrance Jones, Ralph Thomas and Charles Fuller.

AIMA Men’s Ministry received a donation of $500 to the Discretionary Fund from Dr. Vivian Gist and Anthony Spencer, MPA to support the organization’s ambitious community outreach projects including a men’s retreat; preparing a special meal at Light House Shelter; and initiating a mentoring program.

AIMA Men’s Ministry requested each church bring as many youth as they could sponsor to the Prayer Breakfast. Mount Moriah AME Church had the most young people in attendance and each won a gift bag from Rick Anthony, the key note speaker. Rick Anthony was presented with an AIMA T-shirt and a certificate honoring him for his many contributions to the citizens of Anne Arundel County.

The next Prayer Breakfast is scheduled for Saturday, May 31, 2014 at St. Matthews UMC in Shady Side. All men are invited to join us for the Second Annual Retreat.

For more information about the Annual Retreat, email Clifton Johnson at: cajannapol@aol.com.

Addressing the academic needs of military families

Each April, the Month of the Military Child, the US Department of Education (ED) brings attention to the academic needs and challenges faced by children of active service members. “The men and women in our Armed Forces make incredible sacrifices in service to our country. And so do their family members,” says Arne Duncan, ED Secretary.

It is not unusual for the children of military personnel to move six to nine times during their K-12 education. Multiple deployments and frequent moves create a unique set of barriers to delivering a coherent education to students whose classroom success depends on their ability to quickly adjust to new and different curriculums.

The Education Department’s concern is supported by recent studies. In the report “Responding to the Needs of Military Students” social scientist Kris Tunac DePedro found “Military children experience a variety of military-specific stressors. Stressors include repeated geographic relocation and parental separation, both of which can negatively affect social, emotional, psychological, and academic outcomes.”

Virtually all school districts educate children whose parent or guardian serve in our Armed Forces, whether stationed here or abroad and whether on active duty or in the National Guard or Reserves. This represents 1.2 million students; more than 80 percent of these children attend public schools.

As part of the ED’s Student Voices Roundtable, 21 children of service members attending high schools in the D.C. area met to discuss to share and discuss their academic challenges. The students spoke candidly. Many talked about the hardships of moving to a new school, in particular their difficulty transferring course credits.

For several students, when their credits did not transfer, they could not progress through high school with their peers, and in several instances, they were not identified as “graduating seniors” at their new schools, despite the fact that they would have been “seniors” at their prior schools.

Some of the issues the students shared were heartbreaking. One child voiced a hindrance to keeping in touch with her mother. Her school has a strictly enforced “no cell phone” policy. This made it impossible to communicate with her deployed mom during school hours, causing her to miss calls from the battlefront. Another student said she was disappointed her high school wouldn’t live stream graduation, which would allow her deployed father to watch the ceremony.

The good news is the student discussions have an impact on policy, and produced almost immediate action. The Student Voices sessions are “designed for the Secretary and his senior staff to listen and learn from young Americans,” says an ED spokesperson.

These sessions also resulted in the creation of “The Interstate Compact on

Educational Opportunity for Military Children.” Last year Secretary Duncan asked school administrators to “review the Compact and consider ways of making [your] policies and procedures consistent with the guidelines and rules set forth under the Compact.”

In addition to being a tool for school leaders, the compact can serve as a guide for military families as they seek to smooth academic transitions and maximize educational opportunities for their children. The recommendations are as follows:

•Involve teachers, counselors, instructors, coaches, school nurses, administrators and students at all levels in your district’s efforts to better address the needs of military-connected school children.

•Honor and respect the previous academic standing and accomplishments of military-connected children new to your district.

•Be flexible and open to ways to help students transfer earned courses/credits to their new school.

•Enable implementation of individualized education programs (IEPs) as soon as possible and ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided for military-connected children with disabilities.

•Evaluate participation guidelines across your district for extracurricular, after-school, and sports activities to ensure they are welcoming to, and inclusive of, newly arriving students.

•Consider revising other programs or policies that inhibit military-connected children’s transition.

•Share your success stories with respect to implementation of the Compact and service member children. This will allow your work to be showcased to other school districts on the Compact’s website: www.mic3.net. Please e-mail your stories to Gary Jones at Gary.Jones@ed.gov with a short paragraph describing the impact of the Compact in your community.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Indie Soul: B Sharp Summer Music Enrichment Academy

Eartha Lamkin says the B Sharp Summer Enrichment Academy got started after church watching children play after church. “After church services on Sunday, we would have kids either trying to bang on the piano or play the drums.”

The summer camp is for kids between the ages of six and 18 years of age. The focus will be on sight singing, voice, chorus, ear training, theory, brass, piano, percussion, and more. The classrooms are filled with certified music teachers who have gone through background checks so your child will be in a safe environment.

“The beauty of the summer camp is that we have local musicians who also volunteer their time to and also have their kids in the program,” added Lamkin. The classes begin July 7, 2014 and run through August 9, 2014 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday with free breakfast and lunch.

“This is a way to give those children who interested in music a chance to learn in a professional but fun environment. At the same time giving them something constructive to do,” said Monik Rolling, assistant to the director.

The “B Sharp” Summer Music Enrichment Academy will be held at Timothy Baptist Church located at 1214 Saratoga Street in Baltimore. For more information, please call Eartha Lamkin at 410-728-1447 or 410-484-6519.

Celebrate May Day at HSMC!

Historic St. Mary’s City will host May Day revels on Saturday, May 3, 2014 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Celebrate spring with the colonists—rally ‘round the May pole, learn a colonial dance, and play games that will entertain you as they did your ancestors.

There will be garden crafts to make and take home and puppet shows to amuse children of all ages. Local vendors will be on hand selling wares from rugs to fresh cut flowers. Bring a picnic and dine at river’s edge. Historic St. Mary’s City is a museum of living history and archaeology on the site of Maryland’s first capital in beautiful, tidewater Southern Maryland. For more information about the museum contact the Visitor Center at 240-895-4990, 800-SMC-1634, or info@stmaryscity.org.

Caring Hearts Relay for Life team host fundraiser

The West County Relay for Life Team Caring Hearts held a fish fry on Friday, April 18, 2014 at Macedonia United Methodist Church in Odenton, Maryland.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life is a community-based event in which relay teams walk around a local track in an effort to raise funds and awareness about cancer and cancer research.


(Courtesy photo)

Rolinda McIlwain and Ann Pindell preparing deliveries.

Rolinda McIlwain, team captain of the Caring Hearts Relay Team, said this is the sixth fund raising event that the team has held leading up to the big race on May 30, 2014 at Meade Middle school in Severn, Maryland.

The Caring Hearts team is made up of cancer survivors who are doing what they can to help in the fight against disease. They have held fundraisers at Chick-fil-A, Busters Ice Cream and have an upcoming fundraiser at Applebee’s.

The team’s goal for the fish fry was two thousand dollars. Members of the team alternated their time during the all-day fish fry to meet the needs of all the orders.

To learn more about the Caring Hearts relay for life team please send an email to Heartcker@aol.com