The VLP joins a new partnership that uses collaboration as a superpower

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 by Melissa Howison

The Village Learning Place (VLP) is excited to participate in a significant new collaboration for social change: the Central Baltimore Community Center Council.

This new Community Center Council is the result of a year-long, comprehensive community-led planning process facilitated by the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP). That process sought to collect input from neighborhood members about how to improve quality of life and ensure equitable development in Central Baltimore. The feedback the CBP received through forums, focus groups, and resident surveys informed an extensive action plan for community improvement called Front and Center: A 5-Year Equity Plan for Central Baltimore. The new Council is a major component of that action plan, and an exciting step forward for our community.

The Council is an innovative approach to wield the power of collaboration to create positive change in Central Baltimore. In addition to the Village Learning Place, the Council includes the Nate Tatum Center, 29th Street Community Center, Greenmount Recreation Center, and Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center. The VLP’s Executive Director Liesje Gantert shared, “It’s great to connect with other neighborhood organizations who are serving youth and families in the community. Everyone benefits by sharing information and resources!”

“It’s so important to realize that unity and solidarity are essential to the survival of Baltimore neighborhoods, particularly in communities of color that face the effects of systemic oppression and racial violence every day,” said Jessica Land, Community Outreach Coordinator at CBP. “The Community Center Council provides a structure for community centers to share the knowledge and resources at their disposal.”

Early Council conversations between leaders at the community centers revealed that every center was experiencing similar challenges around staff retention and training. The organizations wanted to provide better support for staff members to excel in their positions. Staff members wanted to feel they had all the tools available to educate and uplift the youth they serve.

Everyone wanted more professional development opportunities and essential services for youth and families but struggled to find funding for them.

Several solutions have already came out of these early conversations. First, the Council has been able to pool resources and secure funding specifically for staff training. The Council’s first collective endeavor was a joint grant application to the Helen J. Serini Foundation for shared professional development. The Serini Foundation has awarded the Council $5,000 to implement the plan.

Second, Council members have discussed best practices to share expertise and to provide additional staff support for one another when needed. This could include staff from one Council group stepping in to help another when that organization is experiencing an unanticipated gap in staffing. Ultimately, the Council is finding ways to own their future and create opportunities with and for each other.

Jessica Land believes these successful first steps set an optimistic tone for the Community Center Council going forward. “In the past, these centers have operated independently, some without the knowledge that the others even existed, so their unification in itself is a victory,” she said. “It takes time to build the trust and coordination necessary to work together, and just like any relationship, it requires the absolute commitment and communication of its members.”

The Council’s next project is to partner with Greenmount West Community Center for the #BmoreSuperhero Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to uplift Baltimore City youth ages 7-17, to amplify how young people see themselves as positive change-makers in their communities and inspire other young people to see themselves in the same way.

Each center can nominate youth in their programs to become a #BmoreSuperhero. Thirty nominees will be selected and asked to self-identify a positive personality trait that makes them powerful, craft a character, participate in a photoshoot, and have their superhero story shared with the public.

The #BmoreSuperhero Campaign will run from April 26 to May 26 and include community events at some of the Council community centers. Check (starting April 26) and for updates about campaign events. We hope you will come out to support the work of the Council’s youth and the community centers, see the young superheroes in action, and discover your superpower.

As the Council evolves it will continue to be a coalition borne of community input, designed to inform and support the work of those partners who helped create it. Join the conversation by visiting your nearby community center, connecting with them online, and interacting with the #BmoreSuperhero campaign this spring.

Village Learning PlaceFacebook | Instagram | Twitter

29th St. Community CenterFacebook | Instagram | Twitter

Baltimore City Recreation Centers (includes Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center & Greenmount Recreation Center)

Greenmount West Community CenterInstagram | Twitter

Nate Tatum Center — Instagram