By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO
Don’t be misled by the shuttered building at the corner of Linden Avenue and Whitelock Street. In spite of major setbacks to the organization’s construction plans, St. Francis Neighborhood Center (SFNC) continues to forge ahead and serve the needs of the families and children of Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill and Penn North communities. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) shutdown seems only to have strengthened its resolve. Services have not stopped. Instead, they seem to have increased.
“We’re community-based and community-driven. It was inconceivable to me that we wouldn’t be serving our families,” said Christi Green, the organization’s executive director. “We found a way to redefine community and direct services when we cannot be together, physically.”
No longer able to hold its after school education program at Dorothy I. Height Elementary, SFNC has provided computers to 100 percent of its program homes, with all students receiving daily online instructions and support. Served by Internet Essentials from Comcast, the households have high speed, low-cost, internet connections. Software has been developed that allows for remote homework and the review of lessons, and staff members have stepped up to help keep the students on track.
According to Kevin Apperson, SFNC’s board president, “Every staff member has a family that they’re connecting with, and some are up to three families. They’re keeping in contact with them to know their needs and trying to help them.”
When the population an organization serves is comprised of families who are all living below the poverty level, the needs are many, and that’s the case with SFNC. The organization’s emergency fund has been hit hard, and was down by 35 percent within the first three days of the shutdown. Within the last two weeks, several hundred people have received free groceries and supplies like toilet tissue, baby formula and water. While there has been generous support from board members and community partners, the center has consumed a lot of resources over a short period of time and will need continued support.
Still, Apperson is approaching the situation optimistically, “I think it all comes down to finding out what the students and the families need and trying to find ways that everyone can contribute; from the board making donations, to the staff supporting families. And the tools that we’ve put in place to support our remote work before this event happened, and then trying to sustain it over the next several months. The emergency fund is where we need support to help the families. It was set up for that purpose. That’s the thing that’s being depleted very quickly. If we have people donating to that, then we can meet the needs of the children.”
“That’s one of the greatest fears, that we’ll lose a lot of these kids in this transitional period. School is one of the most stable points they have, and the afterschool programs are a part of that. We just don’t want to lose them over the next few months.”
Donations can be made to St. Francis Neighborhood Center at https://www.stfranciscenter.org/what_you_can_do/donate.html.
By check, please make checks payable to:
St. Francis Neighborhood Center
2405 Linden Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21217
Attention: Christi Green, Executive Director
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 12279 Baltimore, MD 21281
By phone, please call 410-870-9670.