Heart, Body and Soul Reaches Into Community By Chris Rowett The two-story building on North Chester Street in East Baltimore stands out among its neighbors. Located in an area struggling against poverty and crime, the Mattie B. Uzzle Outreach Center is the first new building constructed there in more than 40 years. The center, named after the first director of the Israel Baptist Outreach Center, will celebrate its opening Thursday, Dec. 8. It offers services including the treatment of substance abuse, counseling, education and the distribution of food and clothing. The facility's existence is the result of many efforts, not the least of which may be attributed to Heart, Body and Soul, the School of Medicine-affiliated service organization dedicated to the well-being of the East Baltimore community. "It is our beacon of hope," said Diane Becker, an associate professor in the School of Medicine and a founding member of Heart, Body and Soul, Inc. "We see this as a way to demonstrate that grass roots can really take back the community." But Dr. Becker is quick to give credit to the individuals who volunteered through churches or other organizations to ensure the completion of the 2-year-old project. "Hopkins played a role, but we were not in the driver's seat," she said. "We all learned together from this." Dr. Becker's fellow "students" are also among her fans. "She's always there to do whatever is necessary," said Lowell Whitehurst, one of the founding volunteers of the center. "She's a catalyst." Whitehurst, president and owner of a Baltimore engineering company, is a member of the Israel Baptist Church, which is across the street from the center. "[Helping to create the center] is one of my ways of giving back," he said. "The Lord has been good to me. I've been at the right place at the right time. It has afforded me a good life." In 1992 the volunteers applied for and received a grant from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The project later received funding from the city of Baltimore and a loan from Nation's Bank. Whitehurst said he hopes the center will service 500 people in need each year. "If anybody has a substance abuse problem--be it drugs or alcohol--we'll address that," he said. Heart, Body and Soul will provide health screenings, and there are 20 beds for recovering substance abusers. The center will accept referrals from hospitals and individuals. Whitehurst said the group is hoping to hire a teacher for those who wish to pursue high school equivalency tests. "We're helping to improve the lifestyle of the folks around here," Whitehurst said. His efforts, he said, go beyond the outreach center. Whitehurst, whose company's latest projects are the renovation of Baltimore police headquarters and the completion of Baltimore Arena, would like to see work done on the homes in the neighborhood. "Some of the buildings you wouldn't put a dead cat in," he said. "But folks are living in them." The Collington Square neighborhood that houses the center is just eight blocks north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. A few years ago, it had probably the highest levels of substance abuse and drug dealing in the city, Dr. Becker said. "It was the worst mess you could imagine," she said. Since work on the center began, residents have witnessed change. "In the two years since we started, crime has gone down 30 percent," Whitehurst said. "That's a fact." Nelson Sabitini, state secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, will be honored for his efforts on behalf of the center at the Dec. 8 celebration, from noon until 3 p.m. at the facility at 1211 North Chester St. Several city officials are scheduled to attend.
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