Hopkins Joins Community Effort to Open Safe and Smart Center By Lisa Mastny Three years ago, when Matt Boulay founded Teach Baltimore as a pet tutorial project out of the Hopkins Office of Volunteer Services, he wasn't sure it would even get off the ground. Now, eager volunteers from five different universities in the area apply for tutoring positions. The more than 200 local students enrolled in the program pass the state exams at rates double those of their classmates who do not attend. And the program has finally found a permanent home--now that the new Safe and Smart Center is open for business. Located at 3333 Greenmount Avenue on the site of the former China Palace restaurant, the newly renovated, glass-front facility will serve as a community resource center, providing low-cost or no-cost services, as well as educational and enrichment activities, to the neighboring communities of Greater Homewood. The project reflects a joint effort by the Office of Volunteer Services, the Greater Homewood Community Corporation and the Baltimore City Police Department Northern District to launch a grass-roots community service initiative in greater Homewood. "I really wanted to set up a low-cost, street-level operation in the communities we partner with and serve," said Tiefenwerth, director of the Hopkins Office of Volunteer Services and the driving force behind the center. "When I heard that Greater Homewood wanted a base for their neighborhood walkers program, and that the police wanted to create a kiosk/resource facility to provide information about personal safety issues, we all decided to join together out of mutual interest and work from the same building." In addition to housing the Neighborhood Walkers in Greater Homewood and the Northern District Neighborhood Safety Office, the center will serve as a hub for the many community-based educational projects involving Hopkins students, such as Teach Baltimore's A+ program and the Office of Volunteer Services' Summer Pre-Reading Tutorial Project. "Hopkins Volunteer Services' main thrust with this center is in providing educational services, which we have a long history of doing," Tiefenwerth said. "We always wanted an opportunity for students to volunteer not just on campus, but also directly in the community. This way, Hopkins can be a continued presence for more than just a few hours a day." The new center will also be a more convenient meeting point for younger children enrolled in the summer tutorial projects, Tiefenwerth said. "It was hard for some of the parents to bring their kindergarten-age kids all the way to campus," he said. "This location will be much more accessible and safer for them." The Safe and Smart Center will also serve as a permanent location for receptions, teacher training sessions and some classroom instruction for Teach Baltimore, said Boulay. "Teach Baltimore is really the anchor program at the new center, but our agenda is open for any new projects the community might be looking for," Boulay said. "Right now, we're also doing a photojournalism project with Venable High School students and a Computers for Young Engineers Project with kids at Barclay School." Tiefenwerth also hopes eventually to build a neighborhood playground in the neglected back lot of the center, complete with hopscotch grids and a community barbecue. "We want the community to see that this is really a neighborhood resource, not a Hopkins resource," he said. "The Safe and Smart Center has only been open since last month and is in a listening-post mode. As guests of the community, we're genuinely interested in what the people living in the area want to see there." Since the center opened its doors in early April, the response from the community has been extremely positive, Boulay said. "We've had really high visibility," he said. "A lot of people have come in wondering what the center was about and left us a lot of information about what they want. Just last week, the chair of a community organization came in concerned about a church closing, saying there was nowhere left for the local Cub Scout troop to meet. We told him they could store their stuff in the basement and meet here." While Hopkins holds the lease for the building and provides the people-power for numerous projects, the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development pays the annual rent for the new Safe and Smart Center. The city has also established Mayor's Hub Center #12 at the site, one of several citizen stations throughout the city serving as an entr‚e for citizens into city agencies. "We are delighted that the city is an active part of this too, beyond just the funding operations," Tiefenwerth said. "Mayor Schmoke was enthusiastic about the center when I first presented the proposal to him, and he had a real hand in promoting the idea." On May 24, the facility will be honored by the Neighborhood Design Center at a benefit to highlight neighborhood-based projects that bring life back to the city's streets, parks and civic space. "The center is definitely a success," Boulay said. "We want to say to Hopkins students, and to everyone else, that Greenmount is a safe and interesting place. We want to encourage them to come out and enjoy the restaurants, bookstores, and five and dimes in the area." The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Safe and Smart Center will be held Saturday, May 20, at 10 a.m. at 3333 Greenmount Ave. For more information, contact the center at 516-1981.
Go to Gazette Homepage