Good Neighbors: York Road Initiative Takes Root

University and community unite hopes and vision in York Road Initiative

By Linda Strowbridge  |  Photos by LaKaye Mbah

Seventy-five year old Bill Logan gushes when asked about his Mid-Govans neighborhood—one of 16 small neighborhoods that make up the mile-and-a-half stretch of the York Road corridor.

“I love where I live,” said Logan, who moved to the area 38 years ago after growing up around Greenmount and North avenues “with every major drug dealer in Baltimore.”

Once a predominantly white neighborhood, Mid-Govans—directly across from Baltimore’s Homeland neighborhood—gradually attracted more African-Americans. But unlike neighborhoods that experienced white flight, Mid-Govans retained a vibrant mix of African-American and Caucasian residents, while attracting Latinos, Asians, and others, he said.

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“We diversified and we stayed diversified. Now we have all races and religions here,” said Logan, who now serves as president of the Mid-Govans Community Association.

Sure, the city neighborhood has its problems, he said. There’s no bank or grocery store nearby. Rundown commercial stretches and a methadone clinic along York Road attract some crime. City plows seem to shun the neighborhood in the aftermath of a blizzard. And local youths could use more afterschool activities, job-training programs, and opportunities to create a happy, safe, productive future.

But when the plows don’t show, neighborhood men simply band together to dig out the streets themselves. City police and observant, close-knit neighbors have helped keep crime rates down within Mid-Govans. And when it comes to tackling large, ongoing issues, such as the need  for expanded youth services, the region’s team of community activists gets help “from the cleanup hitter on our lineup—Loyola—and they do a great job,” Logan said.

FROM LISTENING TO ACTING

Now Loyola University Maryland’s commitment to be an active, productive member of the York Road Corridor community is about to enter a new and ambitious phase. Discussions with community members through the Loyola is Listening project enabled organizers of Loyola’s York Road Initiative to better understand the strengths, challenges, and profound pride of the community, which extends from the east side of the Evergreen campus to the Loyola Clinical Centers at Belvedere Square. Subsequently, Loyola embraced three priorities for its community work: strengthening the commercial corridor, improving youth development services, and building civic capacity in the community. Now Loyola administrators are drafting a five-year strategic plan to make progress on all three priorities and improve the quality of life for people who live, work, and learn on York Road.

Some of that work is already underway.

Loyola University Maryland began to change its approach to community involvement in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and the University reached out to help students displaced from Loyola University New Orleans. The experience prompted Loyola Maryland to embark on “The Year of the City”—an exploration of Loyola’s role as a Jesuit university in the urban environment of Baltimore.

“It was a great project. We were able to think about our work in a new way and do many things that we hadn’t done in the past,” said Joan Flynn, MBA ’95, assistant vice president of administration and co-director of the Year of the City.

PARTNERS IN EDUCATION

Faculty, students, and staff from the School of Education have forged a close partnership with Guilford Elementary School, providing professional development for teachers, facilitating enrichment programs, and offering tutoring and other services. Now a class from the School of Education is helping with classroom work and afterschool activities in the Tunbridge Public Charter School in the corridor, the former home to St. Mary’s School, with which the University also had a close relationship before the Archdiocese of Baltimore closed it in spring 2009.

“Loyola can offer a variety of resources through our departments, our individual faculty and staff members, and students,” said Erin O’Keefe, ’03, director of Loyola’s York Road Initiative. “Whether the student marketing club is offering workshops for local small businesses on how to utilize Facebook and Twitter or a faculty member is making connections between their research and a community need, this initiative gives us an opportunity to engage the University as a whole in what’s happening on the ground in the broad neighborhood of which we are a part.”

The Sellinger School of Business and Management, Dean Karyl Leggio, Ph.D., and an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer have already started partnering with businesses in the corridor to help small, often family-owned firms hone business plans, devise new marketing, tap the power of social media, attract the student market, and find sources of funding or other aid. Individuals in the Sellinger School and other areas of the University are exploring the prospects of creating a business incubator, attracting that badly needed grocery store and bank, and establishing a farmers market.

“We feel there are real opportunities here,” said Terrence Sawyer, J.D., vice president of administration. “We saw the revitalization of the Belvedere Square Market and the Senator Theatre. Now we want to potentially leverage those investments and bring that same type of investment further down the corridor from Northern Parkway to Cold Spring Lane.”

BEYOND VOLUNTEERING

Loyola has long supported the York Road Partnership (YRP) and other civic organizations by providing meeting space, clerical services, food, volunteers, and expertise, said Karen DeCamp, president of the YRP. Loyola, she said, helped the partnership develop and implement a system of monitoring liquor licenses “that has enabled us to drive two very bad, problematic liquor establishments off the corridor and negotiate legal agreements with a couple of other licensees to prevent problems.”

DeCamp and Bill Henry, MBA ’06, Baltimore City councilman for the region, said they are enthused by the prospect of Loyola expanding its efforts to build civic capacity in the region. Many neighborhoods have aging populations and limited numbers of volunteers to advance civic improvements.

“Loyola could have a major impact if every year it provided a few students to supplement the civic capacity in certain neighborhoods,” Henry said. “It’s not that there are no community leaders. It’s just that they burn out quicker if they have no one to help them.”

Loyola garnered widespread community support for the York Road Initiative priorities by conducting Loyola is Listening sessions with the public, said Janet Simon Schreck, ’91, M.S. ’93, executive director of the Loyola Clinical Centers, a member of the Loyola is Listening Committee, and secretary of the Govanstowne Business Association. “This is how you approach integrating yourself with a community. You take it from a grassroots level rather than through a top-down approach that starts in an ivory tower.”

However, Simon Schreck—who regularly deals with local businesses, schools, churches, families, and clients—said the ambitious plan to strengthen a regional economy, improve education and youth development services, and help community organizations successfully tackle a range of civic issues will challenge Loyola’s expertise and resources for years.

PLEDGING SUPPORT

Loyola’s president, Rev. Brian Linnane, S.J., acknowledges that the York Road Initiative is a complex, long-term undertaking that will require the assistance of most areas within the University as well as considerable financial support. The initiative, however, is a natural part of Loyola’s mission, Fr. Linnane said.

“Our whole University community needs to come to understand the world as it is and we don’t do that exclusively by lectures or laboratory work,” Fr. Linnane said. “We really need to know something about how folks live and be confronted with the realities of life today. I think that engenders very serious intellectual reflection on the part of students, faculty, administrators, and staff. Anybody who engages in this has to ask themselves, ‘What do we see in our world? Where are people hurting? And what is our responsibility as persons privileged with a Jesuit education to address those sorts of issues?’ I think there are enormous learning opportunities here and opportunities for personal conversion by working with folks who are struggling.”

The effort, he added, will enhance the educations and lives of students, faculty, and staff at Loyola—and strengthen the local community.

“Any university that is worth the name wants to deal with the complicated issues and see its scholarship make a positive difference in the world,” Fr. Linnane said. “And as a Jesuit, Catholic institution, we are committed to ensuring our scholarship will make a difference.”

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