Veterans center in danger of losing HUD funding

New funding rules adopted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could greatly affect a successful program that provides a variety of services to veterans including a place to live.

“There is a possibility that funding received from HUD may be severely curtailed, or significantly reduced,” said Jeffrey Kendrick, the executive director of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET), located on N. High Street in Baltimore.

Because MCVET isn’t identified as a “Housing First” program, the nonprofit is in danger of losing an annual $1.2 million grant from HUD, which recently adopted criteria in which they’d provide funds to programs that immediately seek housing for the homeless.

“I understand what HUD is doing, but our philosophy is to provide transitional housing while providing comprehensive services first,” Kendrick said, noting that MCVET’s program provides comprehensive services to veterans that begin with case management, medical services, education and job placement along with a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy. “Then, when the veteran has significantly reduced or eliminated barriers that cause his homelessness, we provide services for permanent housing placement,” Kendrick said.

MCVET has recently submitted an updated application to HUD and Kendrick says he believes there is a strong possibility that funding may continue based on the overall success of the program that has seen 70 percent of the approximate 9,000 veterans served provided homes and jobs with an average wage of $14 per hour.

The center has been named as a national model by HUD and it’s the only one of its kind in the United States.

Established more than 20 years ago, MCVET houses homeless veterans many of whom arrive with drug or alcohol problems. New clients are required to attend 90 alcoholics or narcotics anonymous meetings for 90 days. After that, they must attend five meetings a week, which is similar to a traditional 12-step program as part of a long-range plan used to help residents stay drug free. These programs are also open to the public, according to Kendrick.

“This is not an easy program,” he said. “A veteran can come here and earn a degree or diploma, but if he or she doesn’t work the program, they may have a diploma or degree, but they’re still homeless.”

There are three levels of residency at the center— emergency housing, transitional housing and Single Room Occupancy. The veterans receive stipends and 20 percent of the stipend pays their rent. Residents are required to put 30 percent of their stipend into a savings account.

The Center has resources to help the veterans, from the Veterans Administration (VA), and Healthcare for the Homeless. It also works with various schools through classes funded by the Department of Labor.

Average attendance is two years, although some leave earlier while others stay longer.

“I was here before and got talked into leaving,” said Denzel Douglass, a second-timer at the center. “I didn’t know whether I was coming back. I worried about what someone would say about me. I was drinking. I was battling depression but I knew I had to get my life back together.”

Douglass, a U.S Marine Corp veteran, says he knows he has to “work the program.” He is training to become a medical assistant and phlebotomist, which is paid for by MCVET.

Wendell Drummond, another military veteran who receives services at the center, said the program is a lifesaver.

“I found my life again. Without MCVET, I don’t know where I’d be,” Drummond said.

If HUD cuts or reduces funding, services like that provided to Drummond, Douglass and others could be curtailed.

“Without HUD, we would have to make up the shortfall,” Kendrick said. “We know our model to be a success and if funding is cut off, we’d have to seek other ways to raise money either through corporate donations or someone writing us a big check which only happens in dreams.

“Our goal is to end homelessness for everyone in the United States whether they are veterans, teens or seniors. Right now, though, we are talking about veterans because that’s who we work with.”

Reporter Stacy M. Brown contributed to this report.

Recent Women’s Day reinforces value of Douglas Memorial Church

— Much has changed in Baltimore as well as around the country since 1962. The more than half-century period has realized great ups and downs from the assassination of black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to the successful campaign and re-election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Through it all the Douglas Memorial Community Church has remained consistent as it continues to change lives, build legacies and empower the many women who have walked through the hallowed halls of that place of worship.

The church is well known for its women’s ministry, which was the focus of its recent Women’s Day Celebration that included interpretive dancing by young parishioners and a keynote address by Pamela J. Meanes, the president of the National Bar Association.

“This is what I do, no [it’s] who I am. My profession,” said Meanes, a partner in the St. Louis, Missouri law firm of Thompson Coburn LLP. “My calling, [however], is the ministry.”

The church’s Women’s Christian Fellowship— or women’s ministry— also counts as the official women’s group of the International Council of Community Churches. The group is heavily involved in the activities of the international council as well as its national mission. It stands ready to assist other ministries in the church and each adult female at Douglas Memorial Community Church is automatically enrolled as a member of the Women’s Ministry.

The Women’s Day event was part of Women’s Month 2015, in which the church hosted a jazz brunch on May 9 featuring The Marcus Lansey Jazz Quartet. The month also featured a “Call to Service Week,” and a “Women’s Chew and Chat Study,” in which women featured in the bible were the topic of discussion.

The distinguished women also took time out to remember the leadership of Dr. Marion C. Bascom, a civil rights leader who served as pastor for 46 years at Douglas Memorial Community Church before his death three years ago at the age of 87.

“Reverend Bascom worked alongside Dr. King during the Civil Rights era and continued his advocacy during his tenure at the Fire Department,” said long-time parishioner, Beverly Reid.

During her keynote address, Meanes noted the importance of the church during the fight for civil rights. She said she is the product of a generation not afraid to call out injustice.

“The fight for injustice is the right thing to do,” she said calling herself an instrument of justice”…a “social engineer,” fighting for justice and equality for everyone.”

Meet Bernadette Williams: The struggle beyond breast cancer

— Each story of a breast cancer is defined by the patient.

In all the years that I have interviewed survivors, one thing stands out— the bravery and the amazing determination of the women who have this disease.

Bernadette E. Williams’ story is one of those instances. Before her diagnosis, Williams, 52, was living the good life with a good job, an expensive apartment and all the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle. The single mother of four had no reason to believe her life would change until a diagnosis of breast cancer changed all that.

Williams worked for a large security firm, Dunbar, which was under contract with the state to transport prisoners. Through her hard work she reached the rank of lieutenant.

“I had an apartment in Millersville, which I could afford and the car and the insurance,” Williams said. What she didn’t see coming was the lack of health insurance, which was denied because of a previous thyroid condition.

“This was before ‘Obamacare,’” she said. To add insult to injury, she also didn’t have any sick time.

She admits to not having had a mammogram. “I was scared of mammograms. My breasts are tender and I didn’t do breast self-exams either, ” she said

Before her health insurance could be renewed, a lump was discovered. At first, she was prescribed an antibiotic then she agreed to a mammogram and ultrasound.

The mammogram found a tumor which followed by a biopsy confirmed a malignancy. One lump was measured at 8 cm (about 3 inches). Williams agreed to surgery, but underwent chemo first to shrink the tumor. Because of the size of her breasts, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy. After surgery, she was prescribed Tamoxifen and chose to have reconstructive surgery.

Despite the double mastectomy, pre-surgical testing detected the cancer had metastasized and spread to her spine. She has been diagnosed at Stage 4.

In spite of this diagnosis, Williams hides whatever worries she may have. Her conversation is concise, articulate and matter-of-fact. In spite of all this, the diagnosis of cancer isn’t the end of her story.

All the seniority at her job was for nothing. She has no income, no health insurance and, recently, no place to stay.

“I applied for medical assistance,” she said, “only to find out that I’m not even in the system. I don’t have health insurance from my job because it was contractual and the contract ended. I can’t buy my medicines because I can’t afford it.”

She has applied for social security and social security disability which won’t be effective until January 2015.

She hopes that the medical assistance will be approved. She took the step of going through hospital social workers to apply because she learned that her local jurisdiction hadn’t even entered her application in the system.

As if that weren’t enough, she lost her apartment and moved in with her aunt, Doris Carberry. She feels grateful to Carberry, but like so many other survivors doesn’t want to burden friends and family.

William isn’t working; has no money, has lost her apartment, her insurance has lapsed and she has been frustrated at every turn.

“All I want is to be able to take care of myself,” she said. “[To] be a little more comfortable.”

She asked her oncologist how long she had: “Two years; five years; 10 years? I don’t know.”

What she does know is that her oncologist can “keep her comfortable,” and she knows what that means.

“Everything is pending,” she says, and you can hear the frustration in her voice.

“All I want is to have whatever I need to maintain a certain quality of life,” she said.

She ends with, “If it weren’t for Aunt Doris, I don’t know where I’d be. I am so grateful to her.”

Community Garden thrives in Cherry Hill

— Just at the southernmost point of Baltimore City is the community of Cherry Hill. The area is home to mostly low-income families, many headed by single parents.

Juanita Ewell is an integral part of the success of the Cherry Hill Urban Garden. For the past four years, Ewell and a small team have worked diligently in the garden encouraging its growth.

Juanita Ewell is an integral part of the success of the Cherry Hill Urban Garden. For the past four years, Ewell and a small team have worked diligently in the garden encouraging its growth.

After World War II, many veterans moved to this segregated community, to homes built especially for returning veterans. There were private homes, apartments and public housing units.

The saving grace of the community was its self-containment: grocery stores, doctors’ offices, schools, recreation centers, a movie theater, swimming pools and churches— all within walking distance from any home in the area.

Generations of families lived nearby and teachers sometimes taught the children of some of the parents. Cherry Hill was a very close-knit community.

Now, it’s not so much the case. Older families have moved away, giving way to young parents. There is a lack of recreational facilities in the area and unemployment in the area is among the highest in the city.

The Cherry Hill Community Development Corp. has worked tirelessly to tackle and combat the problems— one by one— with one obvious success: The Cherry Hill Urban Garden.

According to long-time resident, Juanita Ewell, “Cherry Hill has become a ‘fresh food’ desert. There are at least six carryouts in the area, but no supermarket. One can buy chicken boxes, Chinese food, submarine sandwiches, but not fresh food.”

This glut of fast-food establishments provides “sustenance” of sorts.

It’s sort of a catch-22, Ewell continued. “Many of the residents get monthly checks and patronize these stores. The families eat what they can, because they can’t get to a market to buy fresh food,” she said.

This wasn’t always the case. There was always a supermarket in the shopping center. At one time, Catholic Charities bought into the shopping center and encouraged a supermarket to move there. That market has been gone for years. In its place— a dollar store.

“Many of the residents don’t drive and the nearest supermarket is two miles away. So, for those who want, they either have to catch public transportation or pay someone to take them to the market and bring them back. A hardship when you’re living on a fixed income,” Ewell said.

Ewell is a retired state employee who has always planted food for her family in her own back yard. So, the idea of starting a vegetable garden to benefit the community wasn’t much of a stretch.

“I found after I retired that I wanted to contribute to the community,” Ewell said. “So, the community organization took on the problems they deemed the most critical; housing, fresh food and recreation. The idea of a community garden came out of those meetings.”

The next step was to find a place for the garden in an area that would be accessible to all the residents.

It was decided that a nearly two-acre site off Cherry Hill Road would be the ideal place to build the garden. The lot was already vacant; public housing units had been demolished some 15 years earlier. In the place of these units was an overgrown field covered with brush, trees and trash.

The lot belongs to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), who had to be petitioned for permission to use the lot.

“We don’t have to pay to use the lot, but we do have to apply yearly,” Ewell said.

Ewell and other volunteers rolled up their sleeves and took on the job of turning the lot into a thriving vegetable garden.

“It took a year to clear this lot. That meant cutting down trees, hauling away trash, all without the use of heavy machinery. My team and I used hand tools and sweat, but we finally got the lot cleared,” she said.

Ewell’s “team” comprises volunteers— some college students, a neighbor and a few other young people.

In spite of the “bad press” the community has received, Ewell says there are a lot of good going on in Cherry Hill.

“There are at least 12 churches here. Our children have gotten involved in recycling and

neighborhood clean up projects,” she said.

As for the garden itself, all of the vegetables are grown without pesticides or chemicals.

“We make our own compost, nothing goes to waste,” Ewell said. The growing season is on going, well into late fall.

After the growing season, the garden is open for vegetables to be gleaned by the residents.

For four years, Ewell and her small team have worked diligently in the garden encouraging its growth.

“We’re out here six days a week,” she said. “Our mission is simple— to bring food to a ‘food desert’ and to teach residents how to eat healthy.”

The vegetables are only sold on Saturdays because it’s hard to tend to the garden and wait on customers with such a small staff, according to Ewell.

In addition to vegetables, the garden will eventually offer fresh fruit. There are apple, peach, cherry and fig trees on the site, which Ewell says will start producing fruit sometime next year.

The garden is a non-profit, but sells its vegetables in order to buy more seed.

“Eventually the money we make will go into community non-profits— agencies that work to improve the quality of life for Cherry Hill residents,” Ewell said.

The Garden is always looking for volunteers, especially within the community.

“This garden is for the community. I would like to see more of the community involved in its success,” Ewell concluded.

For more information about the Cherry Hill Community Garden, call Juanita Ewell at 410-355-1020.

Verna Beatrice White

For nearly 75 years, my mother, Verna White had a profound effect on my life. She was my first teacher and the one person I’ve known longer than anyone else in the world. She was strong, independent and feisty.

A strict disciplinarian, she brooked no foolishness— from me, my siblings or anyone else. She was short, not even five feet tall. I remember her green eyes, red hair and freckles. Weighing in at 95 pounds, Verna “walked softly and carried a big stick.”

The only child of Milton and Corinne Johnson, she was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey. College-educated, she was the smartest person I knew. She could answer any question and solve any problem. She was the quintessential parent.

My siblings and I (there were six of us) all understood exactly what she expected of us and knew that she always found out any infraction. We couldn’t understand how she knew and she never told us. It didn’t matter. We got punished anyway. Even if only one of us got in trouble, all of us paid.

She instilled in us a love of the English language and taught us to read at an early age. We had piano lessons, ballet lessons; she insisted on library cards even before we started school. We knew how to spell and write our names; we memorized our addresses and could count and identify colors before Kindergarten. There was no such thing, as “I can’t do it.”

She would say, “A bird that can sing but won’t sing must be made to sing.” She never saw us as less than great children.

Although we grew up during segregation, it didn’t bother us. We had everything we needed and if we didn’t, it was nothing for our parents to drive to New York to buy it. My parents both worked full-time for the federal government— even during segregation. Our mom was a nurse, who worked at several military hospitals before settling down at Social Security until she retired. Our dad worked as an Army vehicles mechanic at Edgewood Arsenal in Harford County. This was right after WWII.

We were the first in the block with a telephone. We were first in the block with a television and a hi-fi. My mother never copied anybody. Her words: “Be the first to start a trend and be the first to stop.”

There were shelves and shelves of books. My mother hated our music and constantly yelled at us to “turn that mess down or I’ll turn it off!!”

She never considered that we would fail at school— and we never did. She never considered that we wouldn’t go to college— and we did. She never considered that our personal lives would be less than ideal; sometimes they were.

She never considered that we would suffer domestic violence; some of us did. She urged us to control our own lives, even if it meant doing it alone and we did.

For 96 years, she had my back. In remembering, I didn’t think so. It wasn’t until she was in her 80s that I realized it. I will admit that 85 percent of who I am today is because of her. I’m taking credit for the other 15 percent.

In April, my mother fell. Diagnosed with vertigo she needed physical therapy, occupational therapy and her home was equipped with all the things she needed to get around— even walkers and a stair lift.

She hated them all. Her independence and feistiness couldn’t help her; she had to depend on someone or something else to help her and she wasn’t ready to do that. She refused to use the stair lift. It took her five minutes to get up and down the stairs.

Two walkers were in the house; upstairs and downstairs. She did use them— for balance. She walked with them lifted up. She didn’t dare drag them across her shiny floors.

On Monday, June 9, I called her to tell her I wouldn’t be able to visit that day. Her last words to me were, “Ginger, I am so tired. I have never been this tired in my life.” I knew what she meant. Later that afternoon, when she was in the dining room, she breathed her last.

At her memorial service last Saturday, hundreds of friends and family members showed up.

My brother told me, “Well, Ginger, you’re the oldest now.” I realize that I am, but I will never be Mama— except to my own children and grandchildren. Only one person can rightly be called “Mama” to all of us and she took that title with her.