M&T Bank Stadium is filled to capacity, and the people still searching for seats are directed to Camden Yards. By the time everyone has found a seat, over half of the Oriole’s Stadium is occupied as well. Nearly 99,000 people are in attendance, which is the same number of adults in Baltimore City without a high school diploma.
Adult literacy is just one facet of Greater Homewood Community Corporation’s (GHCC) mission. The organization, whose service area includes about 13 percent of Baltimore City’s population, focuses on strengthening entire neighborhoods—a goal that embodies adult learning and workforce development, strengthening public schools, and ensuring quality and affordable housing choices. Their multi-faceted mission differentiates them from other community service organizations that focus on one specific project, such as public schooling.
“There are many factors that people look for when choosing to live in a neighborhood,” said Karen Stokes, Executive Director of GHCC. “We want to ensure that a neighborhood is as safe as possible, and includes not only housing and school choices, but other amenities as well. Are there stores nearby? Is there available transit? These are all things we consider.”
Karen Stokes began her career at Greater Homewood seven years ago with a background in housing and development, in addition to some experience working with charter schools. She is responsible for overseeing the three major programs within GHCC: neighborhood and school partnership work, economic development, and direct service work, such as the literary classes offered at GHCC’s Adult Learning Center.
“We have approximately 40 people on staff, and some of them are part time,” Stokes said. “My job is to provide the overall executive management and vision.”
Through her work with GHCC, board member Eleanor Smith has developed an appreciation for the effort it takes to bring people together to incite change in a neighborhood.
“Helping to raise awareness in the community about GHCC has been the most rewarding part of my experience,” Smith said. “Working with such an excellent staff, starting with Karen Stokes, the dynamic and effective Executive Director, and many others has opened my eyes to the problems in Baltimore that these people are working hard every day to eradicate.”
Among the GHCC staff is Director of Development Christy Zuccarini who began working at GHCC through AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program fighting against poverty in America.
“I have always lived in North Central Baltimore and really like this part of the city,” Zuccarini said. “I am a firm believer in GHCC’s mission and feel like we are making a considerable impact in Baltimore.”
GHCC also acts as a fiscal agent for groups that do not have their own nonprofit status and provides back-office support for companies who are unable to mange their finances by themselves. Additionally, GHCC helps smaller organizations by cutting checks and handling payroll expenses.
One of the developments that GHCC is working with is in Barclay, a neighborhood located between John Hopkins University and Penn Station. Revitalization efforts have faced ongoing challenges concerning the probation and parole facility that is located in the center of the community.
“The neighborhood is trying to become more residential, yet is hindered by having a state facility of this type right in the middle it,” Stokes said. “The nature of this facility is impeding the development of a neighborhood. Everyone who leaves prison or is on probation has to report to this facility.”
While GHCC has been working with Governor Martin O’Malley in an effort to relocate this facility, substantial progress has been made in Barclay.
“What was just drawing and plans and neighborhood vision is now the rebuilding of the neighborhood,” Stokes said.
Stokes is not alone in her dedication to the vision of GHCC.
“The most rewarding aspect by far is the people with whom I work,” Zuccarini said. “They are all very passionate, smart and committed to making a change.”
The directors are not the only ones to notice the improvements that GHCC is making within communities.
“Some of the successes have been partnering with other organizations to make more of an impact in areas like Remington, Guilford, Barclay and Greenmount North,” said Smith. “These are areas that are starting to see an upswing in residency and in community building.”
And the 99,000 people without a high school diploma? In 2011, over 34,000 instructional hours were recorded. This included basic education for those with a fifth grade education or below, English instruction for non-native speakers, and training to help people transition into the workforce.
These accomplishments do not come without a great effort on the part of Stokes and the rest of the GHCC organization.
“One of our greatest challenges is fundraising,” Stokes said. “We have a broad mission; it’s not as simple as fundraising a soup kitchen. We have to raise about $2.5 million a year to keep programming going, and while we have around 40 sources to do so, many don’t offer multiple-year funding. Many organizations do one-year funding, which is a constant challenge.”
However, Stokes is proud of how far the organization has come, and has great plans for GHCC’s future endeavors. Smith shares her optimistic vision for the future.
“It is difficult to realize that it takes a lot of people to effect change and try to get all of those people on the same page,” Smith said. “Sharing the stories about the people being helped by GHCC is a great way to engage others in the effort of helping GHCC build and strengthen the 45 communities they serve.”
Smith volunteered with GHCC because she wanted to be a part of an organization that had a great impact on Baltimore City. Greater Homewood Community Corporation gave her, and many others, that outlet; a lasting chance to influence change in the underbelly of the Charm City that is so close to so many hearts.