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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 18, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 8
Strengthening Greater Homewood

Salem Reiner, JHU's director of community relations, and William Miller, executive director of Greater Homewood Community Corp., in GHCC's offices.

For 35 years, one group has championed the city's north-central corridor

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 community revitalization.

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 facilitation.

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 courses."

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 GHCC's creation.

"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 increased.

"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 communities."

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 to


Related Web Sites

Greater Homewood Community Corp.
Johns Hopkins United Way campaign
Save the Date: Oldies but Goodies Social Set for Nov. 19

Johns Hopkins Institutions Participation Total
13 Percent for This Week

Our United Way campaign has raised $1,156,420 — 47 percent of the combined goal of $2,459,900 for all Johns Hopkins entities. Hats off to the employees of the Applied Physics Laboratory for raising more than $612,000, with a participation rate of 40 percent.


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