University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) leaders shared plans to widen community engagement in West Baltimore with a key member of Maryland's congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (Md. - 2nd District) was briefed on July 17 by UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean of the School of Social Work (SSW), Ashley Valis, MSW, executive director, strategic initiatives and community engagement, Elsie Stines, DNP, MS, CRNP, and Rachel Donegan, JD, Promise Heights program director.
Perman shared his strong commitment to improving the lives of residents of the University's neighboring communities, and detailed the expansion of outreach efforts following the civil disturbances in the spring under the UMB Responds umbrella. "We stepped up to the plate, but it was reacting,” he said. “We need to be more strategic in our approach."
UMB has a very solid foundation of community service on which to build, explained Barth. The School of Social Work-led Promise Heights initiative works through four public schools in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhoods, helping children thrive from cradle to college, or career.
“The basic model is to leverage resources from campus, and also from the city, state, and federal government to work with these community schools,” Barth said. The SSW dean noted that “we have transformed the culture of these schools,” pointing to successes in improving educational outcomes, attendance, and parental involvement. Barth said he hopes to be able to bring impactful programs, like BMore for Healthy Kids, to the residents of Sandtown-Winchester, an area that was most impacted by civil disturbances in the spring.
UMB’s community engagement initiative includes many more successful programs, explained Valis. The devastating impact of civil disturbances in already-stressed neighborhoods has galvanized efforts to expand the University’s impact in West Baltimore, she said. The University is working to help revitalize seven communities near the University of Maryland BioPark, has doubled the number of students afforded summer work-study opportunities on campus, has created a pathway for middle and high school students to pursue careers in health care, and is helping local vendors to do business with the University. “We buy $1 million in food for meetings and events each year,” she explained. “How do we support these businesses? If they can't make it, how will we attract other businesses to our area?”
But the most exciting new initiative, she said, is the formation of an urban extension center, to be located in West Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood, and scheduled to open in September. “Our faculty have been yearning for a place to work out in the community,” Valis said, pointing to some of the wide array of services provided by the University’s seven schools: 25 law clinics, School of Dentistry health screenings, the School of Nursing-operated Governor’s Wellmobile, the Breathmobile, the School of Medicine’s Mini Med School, and more.
Ruppersberger expressed keen interest in efforts to serve and revitalize economically challenged neighborhoods, like those west of the UMB campus, and to provide educational support for the city's most challenged children. "I'm very frustrated with what's going on in Baltimore City right now. I feel very strongly that we have to start with these kids," he said.