New Community Engagement Center to Expand Outreach

July 31, 2019    |  

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) is expanding its outreach to the surrounding West Baltimore community with the launch of a brand-new Community Engagement Center (CEC).

The new center will be the cornerstone of UMB’s Community Campus, a location and a concept that demonstrates a deep commitment to strengthening West Baltimore in collaboration with the neighbors who live there. Located immediately west of UMB’s academic campus, the Community Campus allows the University to meet and serve the residents where they are through a variety of resources, programs, and activities.

(View a video with more information about UMB’s Community Campus.)

“UMB’s Office of Community Engagement, as well as our many community partners and our community advisory board members, have worked tirelessly over the last four years to grow the CEC into what it is today,” says Ashley Valis, MSW, executive director, strategic initiatives and community engagement, and a resident of West Baltimore. “Together, we have imagined, planned, brainstormed, and convened many residents to deliver a new community center that will be a welcoming, fun, educational, relaxing, respectful, and transformational space for our neighbors. It will be a place that our community deserves and has been needed for a long time.”

Artist's rendering of UMB's new Community Engagement Center exterior

Artist's rendering of UMB's new Community Engagement Center exterior

The new CEC will be seven times larger than the current center that opened in 2015. In four years, the center has recorded more than 35,000 visits from men, women, teens, and children who engage with its services and programming. The CEC is where UMB helps its neighbors find jobs, gives children a safe place to learn and play, hosts health and fitness programs, and connects neighbors with various resources.

Having outgrown its 3,000-square-foot space, the CEC will soon move around the corner to a 20,000-square-foot historic building on Poppleton Street where services and activities can be expanded to meet growing community demand. It also will house the UMB Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) and serve as a home to UMB’s nationally recognized CURE Scholars Program, which prepares West Baltimore middle and high school students for competitive and rewarding careers in research, STEM, and health care.

As an anchor institution in Baltimore, UMB is deeply committed enhancing its relationships with its closest neighbors so that together they can bring this shared vision to life.

“UMB is committed to this city, to the residents of West Baltimore” says UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD. “I’m so grateful that our neighbors have put their trust in us and are eager to partner with us in something this special. This new center builds on a lot of the hard work we’ve undertaken together as a community, and I can’t wait to see what we create from here.”

Renovations are beginning this month, and a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 24, 2019. Construction is estimated to be completed by the summer of 2020. 

A New Home and a Bright Future

With the approval of the University of Maryland Board of Regents and the Maryland Board of Public Works, UMB has acquired the property at 16 S. Poppleton St. The site is home to a historic building that was formerly part of the old St. Peter’s Church complex and most recently was used as a drug and alcohol residential treatment center. The space has four usable levels and will soon undergo a complete renovation, bringing this beautiful, distinctive property back to a useful life.

“This was a historic property that was very meaningful to our neighbors,” Valis says. “The fact that we were able to secure this property and will grow our programming exponentially to serve more families and children is extremely exciting to us.”

Artist's rendering inside UMB's new Community Engagement Center
Artist's rendering inside UMB's new Community Engagement Center


To fund this shared vision, the University received a $4 million grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The support of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, late Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch, and Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, was instrumental in securing this critical funding. In addition to the grant, UMB has secured $4 million in private philanthropy to facilitate construction on the project.

“The Community Engagement Center presents a tremendous opportunity to leverage state investment and private philanthropy to bring community-oriented services and investment to West Baltimore. This project will provide additional capacity for programs and services that are responsive to the needs of the community,” McIntosh says.

This massive, collaborative undertaking will significantly expand the CEC’s capacity, making possible additional youth programming, workforce development support, health education, and social work assistance services. It also will help to provide on-site spaces for UMB’s community partners, including the United Way of Central Maryland.

A Community in Bloom

The new facility will be the foundation of UMB’s Community Campus, helping build a healthy and prosperous West Baltimore where residents have the opportunity to achieve their goals and thrive.

These objectives will be achieved through a rich portfolio of community-based — and community driven — programming that children, families, and neighbors in West Baltimore have been asking for: an exercise/dance studio, a large multipurpose room for community meals and events, a safe play area for children, a wellness suite, and a more robust computer lab.

“We need this,” says Charlotte McGoines, a Franklin Square resident and regular CEC visitor. “Some people don’t have transportation to go to other places and some people don’t have money for these services, but if you live in the community, you can just walk right here and it’s free.”

The new center also will include a space for food market programs and a kitchen where residents can learn healthy cooking techniques and where CEC staff, partners, and local vendors can prepare food on-site for school groups and events.

It also will have private consultation spaces where residents can take advantage of discreet legal and health counseling and a “family room” where group counseling sessions for families will be led by licensed clinical social workers and social work students.

The CEC also will be home to the new UMB Health Alliance, a student-led and faculty-supervised program that provides preventative health education to community members addressing major health issues in West Baltimore, including asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and mental health.

In addition to the students participating in the UMB Health Alliance, nearly 275 other UMB students have chosen the CEC as their volunteer placement site to enhance their training in their chosen disciplines. Expanding these opportunities in the new center will facilitate UMB’s preparation of the next generation of human services professionals as they develop and refine the interprofessional skills they need to become competent, compassionate, and civically engaged practitioners.

“When health care professionals see people in the hospital, they’re seeing just one facet of their lives,” says Jessica McKay, a student at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “But when we come out into the community, we see all the things that are really impacting them, so we’re getting that holistic view.”

In addition, the larger facility will allow for the expansion of programming for children in West Baltimore. Thanks to the new space, the PAL program will have the capacity to grow from 30 to 75 children.

“I like PAL because sometimes bad stuff happens, and when you come here in a bad mood, they help by making you happy,” says Khari Brown, a 12-year-old who regularly participates in the PAL program.

There also will be space to bring Mini-Makers, an after-school program focused on introducing elementary-aged children to learning through creation, into the West Baltimore community. The new center also will have the capacity to create space for additional social and mental health support services and family resources provided in partnership with the United Way of Center Maryland.

Real and Lasting Change

Since opening in 2015, the UMB CEC has developed a robust portfolio of programs, activities, and resources to help transform the lives of children and families in West Baltimore. Much of that collection will continue to grow and flourish in the new, larger facility.

Key programs and accomplishments include:

Community Markets and Meals

  • Weekly markets provide fresh and healthy food to neighbors at a deep discount
  • Served more than 250 shoppers since 2017
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits accepted
  • UMB proudly sponsors monthly community meals to provide a space for community members to gather and share a free meal together. The meals are catered by a small, local vendors, providing an opportunity to support local businesses while enjoying good food and friendship in a relaxing setting

Just Advice Legal Clinic

  • Offers free legal assistance to residents from University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law students
  • Served nearly 478 West Baltimore neighbors since 2015
  • Saved community members around $72,000 in legal fees

Workforce Wednesday

  • Provides community job seekers with employment advice and workforce training opportunities
  • Provides assistance with resume creation, cover letters, and mock interviews
  • Provides a summer job site for Baltimore youth participating in the UMB YouthWorks Program

Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL)

  • Fosters an open and healthy relationship between Baltimore youth and UMB police officers
  • Provides nearly 30 boys and girls with a safe space to learn and play after school
  • Promotes self-esteem, academic performance, and social skills through field trips, community service, sports, and art activities with UMB police officers

Computer Access

  • Free services for community members with limited internet access
  • Provides the ability to print, scan, and send documents, take courses online, apply for jobs, pay bills, and check email
  • Enables adults, teens, and children to use to internet to play video games, watch programs, and connect with social media

Health and Fitness

  • Exercise classes such as Zumba, line dancing, and yoga are offered throughout the week
  • Classes are for all ages and experience levels
  • A community health worker from the University of Maryland Medical Center helps neighbors set and measure their health and fitness goals
  • A self-care workshop series that includes instruction in practical, life-saving skills as well as trauma-informed techniques