Community Engagement Center Spreads Holiday Cheer

December 18, 2015    |  

Dozens of West Baltimore residents shared the first open community lunch of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Community Engagement Center on West Baltimore Street on Friday, Dec. 18.

Ashley Valis, MSW, executive director of strategic initiatives and community engagement at UMB, said she hoped the gathering would help the residents of nearby Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods feel more at home at the center. “We want them [community residents] to come in and to feel comfortable with the center,” she explained.

Helping to spread the holiday cheer were a dozen members of the UMB University Student Government Association (USGA), who greeted guests and served the meals. USGA Vice President Jonathan Van Ryzin said students also paid for the lunch in the hopes that events like this one “will help merge the University with the community.”

The Community Engagement Center, which opened in October, provides a venue for UMB outreach services from its six professional schools and Graduate School, such as health screenings, legal clinics, job and job search training, and social services.

Ashley Valis, MSW, speaks with Jasmine Roane and daughter Hailey.

Ashley Valis, MSW, speaks with Jasmine Roane and daughter Hailey.

In the minutes before the food arrived from Pigtown’s Breaking Bread restaurant, Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, asked attendees for their ideas and goals for the center. “If you can think of any services we can offer, we’d love to have that kind of feedback,” he said.

Wasting no time, resident Robin Lipscomb offered several ideas. “We need a place for kids to play,” she said, adding, “It would be nice if there was a place for kids to do homework.” Lipscomb and others at her table all agreed that programs helping young adults prepare for and find work are top priorities. “You might not see them out on the corner so much,” she said. “They need some way to support themselves.”

Midway through the well-received lunch of roast chicken, saffron rice, pasta salad, garden salad, and freshly baked rolls, Valis paused the holiday music long enough to introduce the center’s leadership and ask for volunteers to serve on a neighborhood advisory board. The board, she explained, will help ensure the center offers those services most important to the community.

“I am really happy with this turnout,” Valis said with a smile. Her goal now, she said, is to provide community lunches like this one monthly, and to keep spreading the word about the UMB Community Engagement Center.

See photos from the CEC Holiday Lunch here.