• Final Reflections from Emma Kate
    by The Center Baltimore on August 13, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Baltimore is a beautiful, twisted, powerful, and intense city to spend time in. It has a dark history, full of hatred and heartbreak; heartbreak which is seen in the abandoned and boarded up buildings with trees growing out of the caved in roofs, the people walking up and down the street at every traffic light asking for anything you can spare, the balloons and stuffed animals on street corners signaling that something bad has happened there, trash on the streets and the sidewalks. And, yes, we have rats. But, amid all this heartbreak, there is so much beauty in this city, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it this summer.  Throughout the summer, Baltimore has grown on me. I have found a certain comfort in this city that never sleeps, in the sounds and the lights and even in the compactness of the buildings. I’ve even reached a place where I don’t hate driving or parallel parking! While I am excited for the upcoming year and all the incredible things and big decisions I have ahead of me, a piece of my heart will always belong to Baltimore. This job has been one of the most exhausting experiences of my life; there are early mornings, late nights, days spent in the hot and humid weather, last-minute schedule changes, and kids who spill their water on you (not once, not twice, but THREE times). But this job has also proved to be one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I could have asked for. This has truly been a learning experience for me, as I have learned about the history of the city, the people who call it home, what I want out of my future career in ministry, and about myself as a human being. The Center programming and the partners that I got to spend my time with this summer have taught me to view mission through different eyes. They have taught me that mission is not about helping people, but it is about building relationships and being vulnerable with the people in your community. Mission is about paying attention to what God is already doing in the community and understanding that we are not there to act as Saviors. We are simply there to love and learn as we have been called to.This summer has been intense in the best way. I have learned how to love fiercely, how to put my heart and soul into any task I am presented with, and how to be confident in my teaching abilities. I have also learned that one of the requirements for any future church I am employed at is that they grow grapes so that we can make our own juice for Communion. I have been overwhelmed by the grace I have experienced from the visiting groups and from the people I have talked to on the street.Baltimore is a hard city to live in, but once you let go of the premonitions and stereotypes of city living and let yourself look deeper into the neighborhoods you’re surrounded by, you can begin to truly see the beauty. There is beauty in the murals scattered on the sides of buildings and in the gardens being planted and taken care of to provide life in this concrete jungle. There is beauty in the 1st grader who offers to share his breakfast with you on the first day of summer camp. There is beauty in watching campers get excited about reading or get excited about bowling for the first time in their lives. There is beauty in bonding with someone receiving food from a food pantry because you both have red hair. There is beauty in this city, but you must be willing to open your heart and your mind and your soul to the places and the people that God is calling you to. You must be willing to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), no matter where that takes you, because the journey is not always easy, but the destination is so emotional and so incredible and so worth the exhaustion.-Emma Kate Lander

  • Week 9: At Golden Eagles
    by The Center Baltimore on August 13, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    That’s a wrap! I spent the last week of The Center’s summer programming with Burke Presbyterian Church from Burke, VA and Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Dickeyville. Together we joined in to put on Golden Eagles camp. Each camp day was full of exciting activities diligently planned by a brilliant lead staff. We went to a CrossFit for kids class, tried our best to solve some escape room puzzles, took part in a neighborhood-wide scavenger hunt, played water games outside every day (!), tie-dyed socks, and, for the whole day on Friday, went to the beach! There was a perfect balance between unstructured play time and pre-planned activities that kept both campers and mentors really engaged.  There were a couple of special things about this week’s camp. First, this is the third year that folks from Burke have come back to participate in Golden Eagles camp. The youth from Burke and the youth at camp, mostly students from Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle, have watched each other grow up! This was my first time at this camp and, from a third party perspective, it was lovely to see them check in on each other and pick up the relationships and connections where they’d left off the previous year. Also, from a staffing position, it was so handy to have a bunch of experts around who already had an idea of how camp runs, what each kid is like and needs, and could clue me in on questions I had about what was coming next. Just as Burke has made an intentional decision to return to Dickey Memorial year after year, the members at Dickey have known these kids since they were in kindergarten! That’s incredible. This year’s camp and celebration banquet on the last day of camp marked the 6th year of their connection to one another. Just like much of Baltimore, boundaries were created to separate the Dickeyville community from the surrounding communities, namely communities of color. While walking through Dickeyville on Sunday afternoon after church, one of the first days Burke folks were in town, Pastor Jennifer pointed out ways that Dickeyville was sending signals to surrounding neighborhoods that they’d prefer if they stayed in their place. One of the roads in Dickeyville abruptly ends before reaching an apartment complex and there are quite a few security company and ‘crime watch’ signs facing those folks’ communities. Dickey Memorial members have committed to getting to know their neighbors and, along with hosting two weeks of camp every summer, several members (known lovingly as The Matriarchy) go to Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle every Tuesday to have snacks, play games, work on homework, and just spend time together. Each of the mentors from Burke were paired with one or two campers to spend extra time with during mentor time. I was really happy to discover that my mentees also love art. We spent some good time together making each other pictures. On one of the final days of camp, one of my mentees gave me a drawing of balloons surrounding a heart with my name inside. Of course, I couldn’t help but tear up. Trust that it has a special place on my fridge at home. A final reflection from my week at Golden Eagles camp came to be with the help of a close friend of The Center, Tracy Watts. A documentary photographer out of Charlotte, NC, and generally incredible person, Tracy spent the whole week documenting Center camps and programming. On Thursday before heading out of town, she offered the kids at Golden Eagles Camp the opportunity to have their portraits taken. She encouraged them, if they were interested, to pick a place around the church to have their photos taken. Some kids were inclined and some not so much. One young woman who I’d been getting to know that week decided that she wanted her portrait taken but only if she could have me and two of the Burke mentors in the shot with her. Of course we obliged! She then led us through the fellowship hall, down the stairs, outside, through the undercroft and up the stairs to the sanctuary. As we walked through the sanctuary she led us up the couple of stairs in front of the altar. We encouraged her to access her artist-self and position us how she wanted. She centered us on the altar and asked us to hold hands. Tracy took our photos. While this moment felt in some ways like goofy fun, it also felt profoundly sacred as it unfolded.When given the opportunity to put herself anywhere in the church, she put herself, alongside friends, in the most conventionally adorned, holy part of the church. Right up front and center in the sanctuary.-Liv Photo by Tracy Watts

  • PCUSA - Welcome to Baltimore!
    by The Center Baltimore on August 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Last week, The Center was at Big Tent to welcome our PCUSA friends to our city. Mel and Liv were asked to speak before the gathering and share about this city. We recorded it and are posting the text just in case you missed it - or want to hear it again!_________________________________________________________Baltimore’s received quite the press recently, haven’t we? I think the words were “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess”.... “NO human being would want to live there.”These were the President’s remarks about the city we call home. If you didn’t know, and goodness I hope you do know, you’re in Baltimore City. And, you’re in the section of the city where investment has been most dense and is really pretty visible. It’s lovely around here, right? You can see the Domino Sugar sign across the way, the water’s beautiful, shops and great restaurants all over. Life all around.It’s the piece of Baltimore that city leaders, developers, and investors have decided to make beautiful, but it’s only a very small slice of Baltimore. So, for the next couple of minutes, we’d like to share a bit about what we’ve seen and experienced since moving here about 10 months ago. _________________________________________________________Baltimore City is the mother wailing over the death of her children and the children weeping to their mother’s for food. Baltimore City is the sirens crying out from wilderness places because blight has taken hold like leprosy. Can you see it? The man so close to the cleansing water and not one person will assist him in the few steps he would take to be healed. Can you see the trees growing from the rooftops of abandoned houses interspersed by the few with the will and the hope to survive?The hardest thing about Baltimore is not Baltimore, but learning how to live in exile when your neighbors are free. The captive and the captor dwell together, just turn the corner and you’ll see something different. Look across the street and depending on what side you are standing on you’ll see hope deferred or a dream realized. The streets get cleaned or garbage cans are left overflowing. The hardest things about being in Baltimore City is seeing how the rest of Maryland treats Baltimore. A step-child, an orphan. The hardest thing about living in Baltimore City is becoming aware that I have become one of the exiled, yet I have lived parts of my life like a captor. The words spoken recently are not the first time I witnessed the harsh reality that Baltimore City is in exile to the rest of Maryland, Baltimore County and other surrounding areas. Baltimore City is a warning to the rest of the cities across America, “DO NOT ignore the weeping, the wailing, the shouts of injustice and the dead silence!” (or what?) Can you see it? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? _________________________________________________________Just last week, I was working in West Baltimore, the area being tweeted about, with part of a group of students who live just across the Baltimore County line.3 young men, their adult advisor and I arrived at the gymnasium of St. Edwards Catholic Church to see what would become 50+ people---campers, counselors, and adults in this open space cooled off by a few industrial-sized fans and a slight breeze at the entryway. It was breakfast time. Cereal one day; rice crispy treats and applesauce another day because resilience is keyMother sat in the corner near the back, Ms. Barbara was the timeout section of the camp.Her Mahogany skin still smooth though she has reached the age of an elder. Her smile bright and sparse. I became her favorite. At times the movement of the camp would be so quick and chaotic, I’d go and put myself in timeout for a while. A hug and a laugh would revitalize my energy to make it through the next hour or so. I challenged her to keep showing up and she challenged me to do likewise. I learned she had 6 children and several grand. She bought a house just up the street from the camp, one of the few people I have met who own a home in the city. This camp mixed with science, bible study, and environmental awareness was daycare for working parents, a reprieve for tired grandparents, a safe zone for a growing generation, a place for learning to continue---reading, writing, and math. This one open space and the small corner church a block away that served as the emergency heat location is a balm to the exiled.Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? _________________________________________________________Baltimore does have rats, you know? Really well-fed rats, rats bigger than anywhere else’s rats. I’ve seen some. Accidentally picked up a gigantic frozen one once when I was picking up candy wrappers, broken bottles, and old newspaper in a local garden one day this past winter. Can’t really say all of the kids I spend time with here in Baltimore enjoy that rat-level of food access. At some of the camp days The Center has helped support this summer, lunch and snacks are provided for the campers and, most times, pockets are stuffed with granola bars and pop tart packets…for later.  At that same camp, actually just last week, I was drawing with chalk with a couple of neighborhood kids. We were outside in their local park on a section of road between a field and a playground that felt like the surface of the sun. As we were kicking around chalk-drawing ideas and picking out colors, I noticed a couple needle caps around. Before I knew it, I caught myself trying to cover them up with my feet, not wanting the kids to see them. In all likelihood, they probably already had. Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? _________________________________________________________If you’ve spent any time around me these past 10 months, you’ve absolutely heard me talk about this one garden in particular, the Glenwood Life Recovery Garden which is located directly across the street from Glenwood Life Counseling Center. Glenwood Life is a methadone treatment facility for people in recovery from opioid addiction.The garden and the treatment center are located in a Baltimore neighborhood that, five years ago, had a 60% vacancy rate. Since its beginning just a few years back, the garden has been a place for the neighborhood residents to sink their hands in soil, experience beauty, pick some fresh produce. But! I’m getting ahead of myself. I have ten months worth of falling in love with this place that I want to tell you all about but the change I’ve witnessed in above-ground planting beds, in an empty field full of cinder blocks, in others lives and in mine is truly a sermon-series all its own. So, I’ll just tell you about Monday! I was in the garden with Mel, a group of visitors from a Presbyterian Church in Maryland, a couple other local supporters of the garden, and, the woman who had the dream for the garden five years ago when it was an empty, buckled parking lot, Precious. It was a sunny, sunny day on Monday and after getting to know each other a bit we got to work watering the new native plant garden, harvesting carrots, filling carton after carton with these bright orange cherry tomatoes, and mixing in new nutrient-packed compost with the rocky soil of the beds. Toward the middle of the day, Mel and I were chatting during a water break when a couple of the clients at Glenwood life came over to the Garden to see what was going on. We introduced ourselves and heard a bit about them and they shared with us their ideas for which plants and trees the garden needed next. This couple shared that they’d love to see a peach tree and a pear tree one of these days. Mel and I agreed that peach tree and a pear tree would be a great addition to what the garden already has to offer. I found myself envisioning them just between the fence by the beds in the back near where the watermelon vines are stretching out. As we were wrapping up our conversation together and just before the couple turned  to walk off, the gentleman turned around and said to Mel and me, “you know something? There's a reason this Garden doesn't have rats. You know why that is?”Mel and I looked at each other and admitted that, no, we didn't know why this beautiful garden full of yummy food and healthy plants wasn’t crawling with rats all the time. And, in a sentence that felt immediately affecting and so, so timely he said, “because y’all are here tending the land! People are always over here tending the land. Rats don’t like to go places that are well taken care of.”Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention?  _______________________________________Baltimore embodies two polarities and smatterings of everything in betweenOne: vacant streets, boarded up houses, violence, needle caps, hunger. Loss and urgent desperation. Another: new life. A deep sense of pride. Creativity born of necessity. Kids playing. Folks sitting on their front stoops checking in on each other. The cigarette butts Mel and I, our visiting group, and community members picked up yesterday along the York Road corridor will be back in a matter of days. AND, the cherry tomatoes from Glenwood’s garden that we picked carton after carton of on Monday, little balls of orange sunshine, will be back in a matter of days, too. _________________________________________________________We’d like to close our time by inviting you to close your eyes for a moment. We want you to travel with us for just a mile. In this mile there are tree-lined streets and several homes with planters of all sizes and shapes filled with flowers, grasses, and crawling vines. In the early morning and evening cars line the street bumper to bumper. Even the side streets are filled and adorned with party lights that shine like stars at night. Are you seeing all of this? Along this section of the mile, houses have painted mailboxes and the house numbers are each uniquely crafted. Political bumper stickers and yard signs are hard to miss.  Blocks and blocks of green space, trees, ponds, and play areas. Now, we’re turning slightly westward and there are fewer cars, and not as many trees lining the street, the homes look a little smaller, and the residential areas are now peppered with corner stores. There aren’t planters or varieties of flowers that adorn the front steps, a few window boxes here and there, but mostly the vacancy or piles of trash catch your eye first. The side-streets are mostly narrow alleys and no lights are strung overhead. Keep your eyes closed, we still haven’t gone a full mile yet. Now we’ve come to the playground across from an elementary school. A large tree provides shade to a faded plastic blue slide and swing set. There’s a good amount of trash on the ground. If it’s closer to trash day the one corner can is filled to the brim. Someone’s asleep on that bench over there and I think I see another pair of legs sticking out from the awning that way. Can you see all of this? The alleys are pungent with waste and debris. In this section there are a few boarded up houses. We’re not in Baltimore. Maybe it takes you further than a mile to notice divisions back home. Maybe noticing only happens when you accidentally take the wrong freeway exit. Perhaps you cross train tracks. Maybe the division where you’re from is between who owns the land and who tends it. We’re not just talking about Baltimore. We’re any place where boundaries, red-lining, block-busting, segregation, voter suppression, food deserts, and cultural and social boundaries that divide us from one another have been permitted to be the norm.We’re in your city, your town. How stark of a contrast do you encounter in your mile drive? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? Are you paying attention? -Mel Lowry and Liv Thomas at Big Tent, Baltimore, August 2019

  • Week 8: Back Home
    by The Center Baltimore on August 8, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Precious, Precious oh wow, how your garden has grownTomatoes, herbs and native plantsAnd are those carrots all in a row!?!Angels keep watch as sprouts rise upTo meet the air and sunAnd another day of planting and harvestBrings joy to everyone!There is no greater joy than to be at Glenwood Life Counseling Center! It has truly become a home away from home, like many of our other partner locations. I have truly seen this site grow and change in the last 11 months. From the expansion done in May to add native plants that are thriving and blooming; to all the new plants Precious is trying out in the beds. There are sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes that are soooo sweet! Herbs are growing and three youth visiting from the Czech Republic helped to plant radishes, cucumbers, and composting soil into beds. There is never a dull moment around Glenwood Life. On our second day there, Precious wanted to clean up the street because it was supposed to rain that evening. She did not want the trash to flow down the street and into the sewer system so she organized with some young men who hangout on the corner, and a young woman, Angie Winder, running for council for that area to have a mass clean up. This was one of two that Precious organized. Liv and I walked up to The Hut, as it is called, to gather a few extra supplies. It was also the day of the market and so it was cool to meet a few interns helping set up for the market. They were about to head down to Glenwood Life to pick up the tomatoes, carrots and a few peppers we harvested the day before. Outside of getting to work with our partners for longer periods of time, this summer has been about connecting the dots between our partners and the community they are connected to. Liv saw a few of the youth that attended the McCabe camp down the street weeks before, and it was beautiful to see them get excited about worms and try a few things out of the garden. I am excited to see what grows next in this precious garden, next to an opioid treatment center in East Baltimore. -Mel Lowry

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