Following the death of Martin Luther King Jr.,
Baltimore witnessed one of the worst moments in its history
as riots tore at the city's fabric. The city's
neighborhoods in the mid- to late 1960s were also
undergoing a transformation, caught in the throes of
advancing crime rates and a decline in the quality of
housing and public schools.
It was amid this climate that conversations began on
how best to improve community and ensure the future of such
neighborhoods as Charles Village, Remington and Hampden.
Representatives of Johns Hopkins and Union Memorial
Hospital took a lead role in these community conversations,
out of which arose the Greater Homewood Community Corp.
Founded in 1969, GHCC is a United Way-affiliated
nonprofit organization that serves north-central Baltimore
and several major area institutions, including The Johns
Hopkins University. Its mission is to strengthen
neighborhoods by improving education, supporting youth
development and advancing economic development and
From its inception, GHCC has focused on improving the
quality of life for people living in Greater Homewood.
Currently, its activities fall into six major categories:
adult literacy and English as a second language; public
education; youth development; economic development and
housing; neighborhood outreach; and community meeting
William Miller, executive director of GHCC since 1998,
says that the organization's original mission was to
stabilize the neighborhoods around the Homewood campus, but
today it has a far more expansive reach that encompasses
nearly 68,000 residents living in 40 neighborhoods. Its
borders stretch from North Avenue to the south and the
city/county line to the north, and from the Jones Fall
River to the west and York Road to the east.
"We are not a representative of the individual
neighborhood groups, but we are advocates of them and will
help them whenever we can," he says. "Whereas the
neighborhood groups might be more focused on crime and
grime, rezoning issues and the such, we are looking at
large-scale planning and economic development for this
entire area of the city."
Specifically, GHCC assists community associations in
increasing leadership capacity, mobilizing citizen
involvement and developing special projects.
The organization's physical location has moved a lot
during its history. Its first headquarters were in Hampden
and then Remington before taking JHU-donated space in the
Wyman Medical Building. In 1989, the organization moved
into the University Baptist Church at 3501 N. Charles St.,
now the home of its adult literacy program. Today, GHCC
headquarters reside next door, at 3503 N. Charles St.
Currently, GHCC has 12 full-time and five part-time
staff and 11 AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, several of whom
are graduates of Johns Hopkins. It also annually enlists
some 2,000 people as volunteers.
The organization began its adult literacy and English
as a second language programs 13 years ago, at a time when
33 percent of the adult population in Baltimore read below
an eighth-grade level. The adult literacy program offers
both free and low-cost instruction in basic reading,
writing and math.
"We see this as a vital service to the community, one
that improves the outcomes for those who come through the
program," Miller says. "And our English instruction courses
are critical, too, as we have a lot of foreign-born people
in the area, such as foreign-born Johns Hopkins graduate
students who often come to our English language
Hopkins' relationship with GHCC has always been a
close one. University students have a long history of
volunteering at Greater Homewood, as do faculty and staff,
most participating in the adult literacy program. Today,
two people with Hopkins affiliations sit on the
organization's board: Michael Beer, professor emeritus in
the Biophysics Department, serves as the board chair, and
Frederick Savage, the university's deputy general counsel,
is its board secretary.
Ross Jones, university vice president and secretary
emeritus, was one of the driving forces behind the
community conversations in the 1960s that stirred the
"I thought that if we could get the community to take
a look at itself, residents and business leaders would see
what was going on and want to address them collectively,"
Jones says. "I convened the community conversations to talk
about issues of concern. Abel Wolman [noted Hopkins
professor of environmental engineering] was our first
speaker and talked about a trip he had made to Brazil,
where communities were fighting decline through local
citizens he called 'change agents.'"
Twenty-five years after the GHCC's founding, Jones led
an endeavor to revitalize the organization's mission. The
three-year planning effort involved Johns Hopkins personnel
and 300 people from the community, breaking off into 34
working groups, who examined the area in detail. The result
was the GHCC Renaissance Plan, which focuses on
improvements to the area's six public schools, economic
development and neighborhood revitalization. Crafted in
1998, the plan has had a lasting impact. To date, test
scores in the area's schools have risen above the city
average, and property values have significantly
"This plan tackles revitalizing the poorest
communities, which is the No. 1 issue needed to improve
public schools," Miller says. "To rebuild this area of the
city, the stronger communities have to help the weaker
In 1999, Greater Homewood paired up with the
university's Center on Aging and Health and its Center for
Social Organization of Schools to form Experience Corps, an
effort that enlists seniors to help improve the academic
outcomes for elementary school children. The program, led
by Linda Fried, a professor in the School of Medicine and
director of the Center on Aging and Health, now has nearly
100 fully trained members tutoring and mentoring in
elementary schools in the Greater Homewood area.
"We have always had a very positive relationship with
Johns Hopkins," Miller says. "President [William R.] Brody
has been very supportive of our efforts, as has his wife,
Wendy. And the Experience Corps program has been a
phenomenal success, not only raising test scores of area
children but improving the health and outlook of the
seniors who are volunteering."
The university continues to be a funding source for
GHCC, which also receives monetary support from Union
Memorial Hospital as well as private donations and grants
from foundations and government agencies. In 1972, GHCC
became a United Way-affiliated organization in order to
help support its efforts of strengthening neighborhoods.
Salem Reiner, the university's director of community
affairs, says that the GHCC has a long tradition of working
closely with all local interests to identify how best to
strategically utilize area resources.
"JHU has consistently supported the GHCC over its
35-year history with technical and financial assistance,
volunteers and other contributions, which in turn have
enhanced the viability of the area surrounding the Homewood
campus and beyond," says Reiner. "The professional and
dedicated staff at GHCC and the many volunteers that
participate in their programs have generated an appreciable
return. This return can be seen in the improved academic
performance at schools, enhanced capacity of neighborhood
leadership to take on tough issues, removal of problem
properties, provision of recreational opportunities for
youth and English as second language classes for adults and
opportunities for senior citizens, to name a few."
Jones says that the Greater Homewood Community Corp.
continues to be a relevant and vital service to the
communities it serves.
"Urban issues are tough issues to deal with. They need
constant attention. You simply cannot neglect them, even
briefly," he says. "Johns Hopkins should continue to
support GHCC for two essential reasons. We are a huge
enterprise in north Baltimore, and we owe it to our
neighbors, whom we interact with in so many ways, to work
with them to address community issues. And, not least, it
is in our selfish interest to work for a better community
where so many of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and
friends live and work. If we want to recruit the very best
people to the Homewood campus, we must be sure that they
know they will be coming to a vibrant, safe, physically
attractive and stimulating community."
Greater Homewood Community Corp. is one of the
region's health and human services agencies that can
receive designated donations through the United Way. For
more details on the campaign's new designation policy, go