A Neighborhood Partner

Loyola's York Road Initiative works with area residents to bolster community

By Linda Strowbridge  |  Photo by Howard Korn

Shortly after Louisiana native Christopher Forrest moved into his Winston-Govans home in 2005, he went to a meeting of his neighborhood association.

Forrest believes “it’s a natural obligation to be responsible for that which is around you, and to create an environment that is acceptable for your family.”

Attracting just three to five people to each meeting, the Winston-Govans Neighborhood Improvement Association quickly latched on to the well-intentioned newcomer and made him an association officer.

Forrest’s first steps as a community leader were small but effective. Organizing block parties and neighborhood cleanups helped build community in Winston-Govans and ease its issues with drug sales and loitering.

Within a few years, Forrest was helping execute ambitious initiatives aimed at dramatically improving a large swath of north Baltimore.

Now the president of the York Road Partnership (YRP), Forrest has participated in successful efforts to beautify the York Road Corridor and to save a community center from imminent closure.

Loyola University Maryland’s York Road Initiative, Forrest said, was instrumental in realizing those achievements— and more.

“Loyola is essential,” he said. “Loyola is fully engaged, fully open to anything that needs to be done, and the partnership is almost seamless because you never think of Loyola as a separate institution. Loyola feels like another community leader, another great member of the YRP who just happens to be a very large member that plays a critical role.”

Loyola University Maryland has become “embedded in the neighborhood” through its York Road Initiative (YRI), says Erin O’Keefe, YRI Director.

Dedicated to helping neighborhoods near Loyola achieve their own goals of developing strong and healthy communities, a vibrant business district, and enhanced youth and education programs, the YRI has collaborated with community members to accomplish significant things in recent years.

The YRI and community members worked for over two years to save the DeWees Recreation Center after Baltimore City earmarked it for closure. They raised more than $70,000 in financial investment and in-kind support, and mustered over 400 volunteers to rehab the center. Loyola secured a federal AmeriCorps grant to hire a full-time Community Recreation Council organizer for DeWees and donated a computer lab to the center.

The Initiative has operated the Govanstowne Farmers’ Market for three years.

It successfully advocated for the repaving of a stretch of York Road and the installation of medians, trees, plants, and pedestrian crosswalks.

Loyola has partnered with local schools to enhance education opportunities and supported “Vacants to Value,” Rebuilding Together, and Habitat for Humanity projects in the region.

The YRI helped organize a cross-sector group to explore possibilities for the region’s commercial core and retained the Urban Land Institute to provide expert recommendations.

And most recently, the Initiative began organizing community input on Baltimore City’s plan to reconstruct two public schools in the area and create community-use space within each.

In recognition of those efforts and many others, the York Road Partnership named Loyola “Best Neighborhood Partner” in 2013.

“Loyola is one of our anchor institutions that ensures success in our activities,” Forrest said. “We are blessed to have such members.”

Read more about how Loyola’s Bright Minds, Bold Hearts campaign will support the York Road Initiative.

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