Washington Capitals Bring Street Hockey To Baltimore City Youth

Students from eight different Baltimore City recreation centers participated in the 8th Annual Baltimore Street Hockey Tournament on Thursday, July 26, 2018. After several consecutive days of rain, the tournament, which is sponsored by the Washington Capitals; Baltimore City Recreation & Parks (BCRP); and Monumental Sports & Entertainment was held under bright, sunny skies at the Madison Square Recreation Center. The yearly event is the culmination of a multi-week street hockey curriculum presented to over 75,000 students across more than 150 schools.

Bob Wall, Baltimore City’s Chief of Recreation says that this partnership between BCRP and the Capitals introduces students to street hockey and fosters an appreciation of hockey in students who might not otherwise be interested in the sport.

“Students have a chance to learn the game through playing it, which makes watching and following it more enjoyable,” Wall said. “It’s a way to get them up and active and using different muscle systems in their bodies, and in a city that doesn’t always have the best reputation, this program unifies neighborhoods by creating fun competition between students who live in different areas of the city.”

Dressed in bright t-shirts and donning street hockey sticks, students cheered for their teammates and enjoyed the fun atmosphere of the tournament. The games were fast-paced and exciting, and everybody, even the adult coaches, spectators, and members of the press, were smiling and having fun. It was almost impossible not to dance to the music coming from the speakers and get caught up in the intensity of the games being played. Even people walking past the community center stopped as they passed to see what all the cheering was about.

One passerby, Donna Hairston, watched in fascination as the game continued. “You’d expect kids in the middle of the city to be playing basketball or football,” Hairston observed as she watched the children play, “but not hockey. Black kids playing hockey. This is a sight for sore eyes!” she laughed.

“This has really turned into an event that kids look forward to every year,” said Peter Robinson, director of Community Relations for the Washington Capitals.

Eight years ago, the Capitals donated street hockey equipment to 15 Baltimore City community centers. They sent instructions on how the game was played and how to teach the skills to the students.

“The first year we had this tournament, we had a couple dozen kids, a few teams, and the kids were just happy to be participating. Now, we have teams at 42 recreation centers. They have strategy. They’ve been practicing. They argue over the rules. They’re really competitive. This has become a source of pride for them,” Robinson explained. “The kids look forward to it every year, and so does my staff. The Washington Capitals love coming to Baltimore and being a part of something so positive and fun for the students.”

It doesn’t hurt that this year the Capitals are sharing their 2018 Stanley Cup Championship with the students participating in the tournament.

Several of the hockey games were played at outdoor rinks.

Alisa Hyman

Several of the hockey games were played at outdoor rinks.

“When we got here, students ran up to us and told us that they watched every single game of the Capital’s playoff run. They knew all the details of all the games. These kids are fans now. They understand the sport. They know what’s going on. Before, they didn’t pay attention to hockey. Now, they never miss a game. We are here to create excitement around the sport of hockey. When we see how excited these kids are, we know we are doing our job,” Robinson said.

The program has become so popular and is so beneficial that this year, the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals have donated street hockey equipment to 170 schools and 42 recreation centers in Baltimore City. This generous donation will introduce street hockey to thousands of students during their physical education classes at school and at recreation centers after school and during the summer.

“The whole goal of this program is to provide access to the kids in the city of Baltimore to hockey,” Robinson said. “And we’re doing it.”

Dole And ShopRite Bring “Learning Garden” To Liberty Elementary School

The students and faculty of Liberty Elementary School were involved in a very special event on Thursday, June 7, 2018. Jacob Klein of Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland joined Dole Packaged Foods to mark the donation of a Captain Planet Foundation Learning Garden to their school.

The students had an opportunity to sample vegetables from a garden they planted several months earlier and cared for themselves. Using special planter boxes the students built with the help of Turner Construction Company, they planted seeds and took turns watering the plants and pulling weeds. The students worked with art teacher and garden project coordinator, Marnee Keith, to design the garden and determine where the vegetables should go.

Jacob Klein of Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland joined Dole Packaged Foods to mark the donation of a Captain Planet Foundation Learning Garden to Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore on June 7, 2018.

Alisa Hyman

Jacob Klein of Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland joined Dole Packaged Foods to mark the donation of a Captain Planet Foundation Learning Garden to Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore on June 7, 2018.

To celebrate their hard work over many months, the ceremony honored the students and faculty at Liberty Elementary School for their hard work, and rewarded their efforts with fresh salad made with vegetables from their garden at the school.

The Project Learning Garden Program is designed to provide context for students to learn outside the classroom in enriching, hands-on ways. Students learned about what happens to seeds planted in the classroom during science lessons and outside in their very own garden. One of the most important lessons that students learned as a result of the partnership with Dole and ShopRite is the value of eating healthy food and balanced nutrition.

Projects like these extend far beyond the classroom. Students take the information home that they learned in school from their garden project to their parents and try to encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“The younger students just know that their groceries come from the store,” said Liberty principal Joseph Manko, “but to actually see those items grow

before their eyes and to be able to harvest them and use them in an edible salad— something that’s healthy and tasty, instills in the importance of nature and ecology, and how we can use what they’re growing to nourish their bodies.”

Volunteers help to prepare and serve students the salads made from the vegetables they planted and cared for in their school garden.

Alisa Hyman

Volunteers help to prepare and serve students the salads made from the vegetables they planted and cared for in their school garden.

Perhaps the best part of the event, were the smiles on the student’s faces as they excitedly talked about their role in planting the vegetables they were eating. They were eager to talk about how they put seeds in the dirt and took time watering their gardens until they saw the green spouts growing. The excitement in the students was palpable as they all talked about how delicious their salads were. One little girl wondered aloud, “I wonder if my mommy could make this at home?” It looks like this project is having exactly its intended response.

It didn’t hurt that Captain Planet was on hand to flex his muscles and show his support for the garden project representing the Captain Planet Foundation, a partner in this garden initiative.

Captain Planet was ton hand to celebrate with the students.

Alisa Hyman

Captain Planet was ton hand to celebrate with the students.

The Captain Planet Foundation is a grant-making foundation that has funded thousands of hands-on environmental awareness projects for schools and non-profits that serve students in all 50 states and 32 countries around the world.

The students continue to maintain their garden. They have a watering schedule in place and are all eager to do their jobs to ensure that their garden continues to grow delicious fruits and vegetables for the community to enjoy.

Perhaps gardens like the Captain Planet Learning Garden at Liberty will inspire more community gardens that can grow food and foster unity in Baltimore’s neighborhoods and communities.

Comcast Cares Day Unites the Community in Celebration and Service

On Saturday, April 21, 2018, hundreds of volunteers, Comcast employees and their families, and several community organizations gathered at Furley Elementary School for the 17th annual Comcast Cares Day, a nationwide day of service dedicated to creating positive change in communities across the country. As structural problems and other building issues are addressed at the original Furley High School, volunteers met at VanGuard Collegiate, Furley’s temporary home, to beautify the campus by creating colorful murals; covering the walls with bright coats of fresh paint; mulching flower pots; planting flowers and trees; and picking up unsightly and unsafe trash from the school playground and playing field.

Comcast Cares Day is an annual celebration and an opportunity to spotlight the company’s year-round commitment to volunteerism that began when the company was founded 55 years ago. Comcast’s community efforts have sponsored a wide range of projects, from teaching digital literacy skills and mentoring youth to partnering with the United Way to pack food boxes and beautifying parks and schools. To date, volunteers have contributed over five million volunteer hours to 8,800 projects. Comcast tries to fill whatever need exists in the community that would make a positive difference in the lives of its residents. “Volunteering is in our DNA, at the core of our company’s culture,” Savannah Isner, Comcast Senior Public Relations Specialist, said. “We are working to ensure that the communities where we live and where our customers live, better.”

The parking lot at Furley was filled to capacity as volunteers appeared bright and early to begin the day of service. The school lobby was flooded with a sea of green Comcast Cares t-shirts, and participants buzzed with excitement. City Councilman Brandon Scott, representing Baltimore City’s 2nd district, believes that Comcast’s community efforts will benefit the most important members of the community—the children—in a very significant way. “We are so grateful to Comcast and all the community partners, sororities, fraternities, and all the other folks that came out today to help improve this building,” he said. “Even though this is a temporary home for our children, we want them to have the best experience possible, so we always appreciate the people who take the time out of their weekends to invest in our children.”

Furley Elementary School principal, Greta Cephus, greeted the volunteers before they were assigned to their projects. “We carefully surveyed the school grounds, the trash that surrounded the building, and other cosmetic issues that needed attention, and we made a list of tasks. Those are the tasks that you have volunteered to complete today. There is enough work for each of you to have a project, which is how you can show the children that you are thinking of them. We couldn’t do any of this without you.” The auditorium erupted in applause.

Seated in the front row of the auditorium, listening attentively for their assignments, were Betty Fasoranti and her granddaughters Jada (age 11) and McKenzie (age 3) Knox. “The principal here is outstanding,” Ms. Fasoranti said. “She is on the pulse of anything and everything needed to make this school better for the children. I think today will let the students know this is not just a school, but a home. Today will give the students hope.”

Jada takes pride in her school. “I want to make my school a better place,” Jada said. “I’m glad to be here today.”

As volunteers were assigned to various tasks, the hallways and lobby were full of laughter. Participants were excited to be participating in such an important community event. The students who were there were thrilled to see the pretty new flowers and bright murals in their new building. People of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and professions gathered together on a sunny Saturday to give their time and service to improving life for hundreds of students. Comcast Cares Day beautified the community in more ways than one. Unity is a beautiful sight to behold, and Comcast Cares Day was the perfect example of the difference that everyday people can make when they are committed to service and will do whatever is necessary to make life brighter in their communities.

“It’s very simple,” Councilmen Scott said. “The only way that our city will be the very best that it can possibly be is if all of us help out. It takes all of us. Not just one person or one organization, but every single person needs to decide that they are committed to doing things for the greater good.”

Healing Through Creative Expression

On Thursday, March 15, 2018, the Institute for Integrative Health, in conjunction with the Gordon Parks Foundation opened “A Beautiful Ghetto, Three Years Later: A Conversation about Healing,” an exhibit featuring the photography of Baltimore native and award- winning photojournalist Devin Allen, who chronicled the uprising that followed Freddie Gray’s death.

Through the 10-week program series, Allen and the Institute intend to use the interactive art installations to spark the discussion and action necessary in the healing of the community of Baltimore.

Devin Allen was born and raised in West Baltimore. He gained national attention when one of the photographs he took during the uprising was featured on the May 2015 cover of Time Magazine— only the third time the work of an amateur photographer has ever on the magazine cover.

Allen’s photographs have also appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Aperture.

“I wanted to capture the intense moments that happened during the uprising that most media outlets weren’t showing,” Allen said. “I wanted to give people a real idea of what happened during the uprising- show them how the residents of Baltimore came together and supported each other and celebrated life even in the shadow of tragedy.”

Even after the uprising, Allen has remained deeply committed to showing the beauty of Baltimore and the life and love that thrives in its communities. He has turned his attention to the youth of Baltimore with his “Through Their Eyes” project, designed to spread love and hope through art. He puts cameras in the hands of Baltimore youth, and they in turn, tell their own stories through their photography.

“I knew that the way to change how people viewed Baltimore was to change the Baltimore narrative. Photography changes the narrative. Photography is one way we combat real-life issues with art,” Allen said. “This is how we show who we are to the world outside this city.”

Through crowd-sourced fundraising and donations from sponsors, Allen provides students with cameras, donates his time hosting youth photography workshops, and creates exhibits to display their work. To date, Allen has given away 198 cameras to youth centers across the country.

“Photography helps kids to digest the world in a real and meaningful way. It also provides a way for them to show their world to everyone else,” Allen said reflectively. “I wanted to inspire kids to tell their own stories, so I solicited the help of community to help me. I put on a show and the community came out in droves to support me. Art unifies people.”

Allen has taught film and photography all over the country.

He published a collection of his work, A Beautiful Ghetto, a book that proclaims and highlights Baltimore’s beauty and resilience through photography and was nominated in 2017 for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author. Allen was the recipient of the 2017 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, an honor only magnified by Allen’s immense appreciation and admiration for Gordon Parks and his life’s work.

The Institute for Integrative Health, a Baltimore based non-profit organization, has taken an interest in Allen’s work because of his commitment to the healing of communities through the decompression and discussion spawned by his photography. The Institute’s focus is on the social and environmental factors surrounding health and the various ways of helping people heal through art, nature, and other creative means.

When asked why he was so passionate about photography at the opening of “A Beautiful Ghetto, Three Years Later: A Conversation about Healing,” exhibit featuring his photography, West Baltimore native Devin Allen responded,

When asked why he was so passionate about photography at the opening of “A Beautiful Ghetto, Three Years Later: A Conversation about Healing,” exhibit featuring his photography, West Baltimore native Devin Allen responded, “History is written by those who document it. I am telling our story.”

In addition to Allen’s photography, which will be on display until May 24, a series of workshops and creative demonstrations will be offered at the Institute focused on Working to Heal Baltimore (April 12 at 6:30 p.m.); Healing through Creative Expression (April 13 and 6:30 p.m.); and Healing through Human Connection: Exercising the Mind, Body, and Soul (April 14 at 11 a.m.)

Brian Berman, president of the Institute for Integrated Health, is excited about the exhibit and the healing and discussion that will occur as a result. “We are all about finding ways to heal people. Devin is healing an entire community through his work. We wanted to celebrate his accomplishments and give the community the tools they need to find their own creative voices.”

For more information about the program series, visit http://bit.ly/HealingBaltimore. Follow him on Instagram: @bydvnlln

New Center at Fayette Offers Head Start Education to 80 Baltimore Families

On Monday, March 19, 2018, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh came out with other community leaders, partners and families to celebrate the official opening of the new Y Head Start Center at Fayette, a 17,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art early childhood learning city in East Baltimore’s Pleasant View Gardens community.

Once the site of the Pleasant View Day Care Center, the facility is equipped with technology to supplement learning, a Family Engagement Center where families can come together and spend time playing interactive games, and a multi-purpose room for hosting larger events. It will also host workshops for families, professional development for associates and teachers, and offer training opportunities for area residents. However, most importantly, the center will allow up to 80 children from this community to receive the head start education that they need to adequately prepare for kindergarten.

Head Start was introduced by the Johnson administration as part of the War on Poverty, as research has shown that the earlier children begin to learn, the more prepared they will be for the education they receive in their later years and the better their chances of escaping poverty as adults will be.

“With the addition of the Y Head Start at Fayette, we are helping to set more children living in poverty up for a lifetime of success,” said John Hoey, president and CEO of the Y of Central Maryland. “This was a pretty big effort for us. We transformed a former daycare center that had fallen on hard times and was in disrepair into a facility with living classrooms that offered far more than a regular daycare center can provide. The opportunities that these students will have will be absolutely transformative.”

Students will receive whole-child development to ensure that they are prepared academically, socially, and emotionally to enter kindergarten ready to learn. “The center also offers family advocacy and support services that really get families involved in their children’s education and development,” Hoey continued. “There are requirements for families enrolled here in terms of volunteering and engaging. This is a comprehensive program that just includes a high-quality preschool environment, but it goes way beyond what happens in the classroom.”

The classrooms are spacious and brightly lit. Student’s work adorns the hallways and bulletin boards, and the classrooms are equipped with technology that allows teachers to access progress reports, create personalized learning experiences to help students meet develop- mental milestones as they learn and play.

Each classroom has a white board and is complete with toys and other supplemental learning material. Laughter can be heard coming from the open classroom doors as students engage in active play and learn the world around them. The new center also has an upgraded video surveillance security system and interactive intercom system with the ability to view everyone who requests entry before allowing them to enter.

This is a place where children learn and grow, where parents learn the skills they need to support and encourage their children’s development, and where families can come together and have fun in an environment that rivals the most expensive private pre-school programs often unavailable to lower income residents.

“We are so glad and so proud to have this relationship with the Y in Central Maryland,” Mayor Pugh said during her comments at the ceremony. “Because they show us that it’s what we do for the least that matters most to all of us. Our children will now have exposure to the opportunity and technology that will allow them to compete with their peers around the country. They will be able to realize their dreams when we teach them to be competitive, not combative.”

Save Our Village Feeds Baltimore’s Homeless and Underserved

It all started with a question.

Baltimore native Antoinette Rucker has volunteered with organizations committed to feeding the homeless for years. After volunteering one Thanksgiving, she noticed all the people, especially the children and young adults who were standing in line for a Thanksgiving meal.

“People are in the giving spirit around the holidays,” Rucker recalled. “But the need extends beyond Christmas. What about the rest of the year?”

In April 2017, Rucker answered her own question by creating Save Our Village Baltimore, a grassroots organization formed to meet the needs of Baltimore’s homeless by providing them with hot food, clothes and care packages filled with toiletries and other essential items.

Antoinette Rucker wanted to offer something other than cold sandwiches in brown paper bags, so every weekend, she cooks hot meals on a small propane grill. The menu usually consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and French toast.

Antoinette Rucker wanted to offer something other than cold sandwiches in brown paper bags, so every weekend, she cooks hot meals on a small propane grill. The menu usually consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and French toast.

“I wanted to create an outlet for people who looked for year-round opportunities to contribute to the communities in which we live by lending a helping hand to Baltimore’s homeless and underprivileged,” Rucker explained.

There are organizations in Baltimore that feed the homeless, but Rucker wanted to offer something other than cold sandwiches in brown paper bags, so every weekend, she cooks hot meals on a small propane grill. The menu usually consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and French toast, but Rucker has also distributed soup, chili, and other hot, filling meals. Rucker and her volunteers serve, on average, 80 people each weekend, and to date, Save Our Village Baltimore has passed out over 3,000 meals and 400 care packages.

“I created Save Our Village because it breaks my heart to see young adults and women with children begging for change,” Rucker said. “I can’t imagine what it feels like to experience the ache of hunger every single day.”

Rucker believes that the need for hot food and toiletries is so great that she continues to go out into the community every weekend despite the fact that she is not yet an official non-profit organization.

“Not being an official non-profit prohibits me from eligibility for grants and donations from large markets and retail stores. I’m currently working through the paperwork and will soon become an official non-profit organization, but until then, there are people in my city that are hungry and need help, so I am willing to do whatever I can to meet their needs, even if it means spending my own money to buy food and supplies,” Rucker said.

Despite the expense, Rucker feels a deep sense of obligation for the people she meets each weekend.

“One Saturday morning,” she recalled, “One young man told me that I was cooking the first meal he’d had in three days. He knew if he could just make it to Saturday, I’d be there and he could count on a hot meal and some toiletries. Every weekend, people are waiting for me and depending on me, so every weekend, I show up for them.”

Save Our Village has hosted events designed to encourage people to come out and donate their time and resources to benefit a part of the population that most people overlook. For Thanksgiving, in addition to serving food and passing out supplies, a local barber was on hand providing free haircuts.

Rucker has also partnered with other local organizations in an effort to have an even greater impact in the community.

“I conducted my own research by interviewing a few of the homeless people with whom I interact on a regular basis,” Rucker said. “And I found that so many people who are homeless [also] have drug addictions and mental illnesses [which] makes securing stable housing very difficult. Some of them have been robbed and raped on the streets, and in shelters. Save Our Village Baltimore is my way of providing a helping hand to a population of people [who] struggle every single day.”

Rucker hopes to one day expand Save Our Village Baltimore into a grand operation, which would consistently provide food, supplies and aid to underprivileged residents and struggling families. In a city where 21 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 3,000 residents are homeless, Save Our Village Baltimore is more than a free hot meal on weekends— it’s an organization that gives people hope.

“Save Our Village Baltimore knows that our efforts will never be a solution to the problem of homelessness, but I hope we can limit the amount of distress and desperation that plagues the poor and hungry in our communities, while promoting selflessness, understanding, and consideration to people who have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves.”

For more information on Save Our Village Baltimore and to find out how you may help, visit @SaveOurVillageBaltimore on Instagram.

Mayor Pugh kicks off Baltimore’s month-long celebration of Frederick Douglass’s 200th Birthday

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh commemorated the start of Black History Month with a celebration honoring the life, legacy and 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass on Thursday, February 01, 2018. Mayor Pugh began the program by recognizing some of Douglass’s many achievements.

“He celebrated the life and legacy of Baltimore,” she mentioned, as she spoke of Douglass’s contributions to the city, many of which can still be seen and appreciated today. Mayor Pugh also recognized the importance of celebrating Black History. “If you don’t know your history,” she warned, “you won’t know where you’re going.”

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. After overcoming horrific obstacles, he would eventually escape to freedom and become a famous orator, abolitionist, and writer, penning three autobiographies before his death in 1895. Douglass held several political appointments and toured the country giving lectures topics that ranged from the abolition of slavery to women’s rights. He is known as one of the most intelligent minds of his time.

President and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation James Piper Bond introduced students from Crossroads Charter School, who shared some of Douglass’s more noteworthy quotes and essays they wrote themselves noting how inspired they are by Douglass’s achievements. Lively and well spoken, the students really brought life to Douglass’s words.

City Council President Jack Young encouraged the young people to remember Douglass as they set goals and worked toward them.

“Dream big,” he told them. “You can be whatever you want.” Comptroller Joan Pratt also had words of wisdom for the audience. “We should all take time to educate ourselves on the many accomplishments of African Americans. There is so much that we can learn from our history.”

A bronze statue of Frederick Douglass standing next to a student and a stack of books by artist and sculptor Joseph Sheppard was unveiled during the celebration as a tribute to Douglass’ continuous quest for education.

“The inspiration for this statue was simple,” Sheppard remarked. “Frederick Douglass believed that once a man learned to read, he was forever free.”

Sheppard has been an artist for 60 years. His wife, Rita St. Clair designed the interior of Baltimore’s City Hall Rotunda, the very location where the event was being held.

When asked about his lifelong career, Sheppard laughed and said, “I’m an artist because I can’t do anything else! What else would I be good at?”

The bronze statue of Douglass and the student will be featured at an art exhibition in the City Hall Rotunda.

Music was provided by the Dunbar High School Jazz Band and the ceremony ended the way every good birthday party should— with the cutting of a commemorative birthday cake and singing.

This event was the kickoff of an entire month of events and festivities recognizing the life of Frederick Douglass.

Later the same evening, Mayor Pugh celebrated the opening of two art exhibitions featuring artists Nathaniel K. Gibbs and Lawrence Hurst, both graduates of Frederick Douglass High School.

Among the activities scheduled are lectures, panel discussions and seminars at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, lectures at the Maryland Historical Society, art exhibitions, concerts and museum tours. This event was just the first several birthday parties being held in and around Baltimore during February in Frederick Douglass’s honor.