In Reservoir Hill, West Baltimore, there are open-air drug markets; shootings seem to occur more often than not; and just about every family lives below the federal poverty line. It’s also the neighborhood that was wrecked by demonstrations and riots following the death of Freddie Gray and the ever-rising theft and robbery rates keep Baltimore’s finest busy.
However, something good is happening in Reservoir Hill, something that residents and those who run the more than half-century old St. Francis Neighborhood Center call “The Miracle on Linden Avenue.”
“Our programs have helped young ones improve their grades and build pride in who they are,” said Christi Green, the executive director of the center, which has launched a capital campaign to raise $4 million to update and expand the center.
To date, center officials say they have already surpassed half the goal with $2.1 million raised with support from companies like Under Armour and foundations like the France-Merrick and Knott organizations.
Another 30 percent of the $4 million goal may come from the Weinberg Foundation, which would put the center on track to break ground in September. The center has received grant funding from the nonprofit in the past and recently applied for funds from the foundation that would cover a large portion of the remaining campaign, according to Green.
“The goal is to be debt-free, so we have to raise all the [funds]. Green said. “If Weinberg, who we have a really good relationship with, funds 30 percent, we’d have about $700,000 left [to raise]. It’s pretty exciting and I definitely think we can do it.”
Green says she feels the pressure to succeed because for decades the center’s programs have served as a vital resource and catalyst for improving the lives of individuals and families in and around Reservoir Hill.
Among those programs is an eight-week summer youth development program, which engages youth between ages five and 18 in innovative service projects aimed at alleviating issues affecting the community.
The program is free to youth and families; and runs Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with breakfast, lunch and snacks provided. Children receive customized tutoring and participate in various educational projects.
Green says the goal is to improve pre-to-post assessment scores, behavior, attendance, and to prevent summer learning loss.
The center’s summer program costs $75,000 to run while separate youth development programs have budgets of $485,000 and $320,000.
“We have a three-year wait-list for kids to come in because we don’t have enough room,” Green said. “We’ve been through a lot here with Freddie Gray, the violence, the drugs, but one thing that’s been consistent since 1963 is our presence.”
The center’s programs have paid dividends. All students in the program are now earning B averages and above and Green and other center officials say that they are beginning to dream and so are their parents.
“We can see the children and the parents striving. Because the kids are doing so well, the parents are excited, and we have two families who are buying their first home and parents are going back to school and moving out of shelters, so cool things are happening, and we’ve become this model program that’s tucked away in the heart of Reservoir Hill,” Green said.
Plans for the new structure that will result from the capital campaign include adding classrooms, an art studio, a kitchen, greening projects, multi-purpose space, expanded media lab and library.
Once completed, the center will be equipped to serve more than 200 children in its education programs— an over 100 percent increase in enrollment.
“I feel very honored to work for this neighborhood,” Green said. “I feel like it’s exceptionally friendly despite the violent crime; [and] nearly 100 percent of the people in the neighborhood want better for the neighborhood.”
For more information about the St. Frances Center or to make a donation, visit: www.st.franciscenter.org.