Aigburth’s Solar Upgrade

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GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic , a non-profit organization that makes solar power and job training accessible to under-served communities, and volunteers from Constellation energy installed a 90kw cost-saving solar energy system at Aigburth Vale last week.

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is able to provide the solar energy system with the support of Constellation.  Savings from the system will help fund ongoing renovations to preserve Aigburth Vale as affordable senior housing.

Built in 1868 by architects Niensee and Neilson as a country home for actor John E. Owens, the historic Aigburth Vale mansion was turned into affordable senior housing in 1999 by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center and our partners.

The 90 kW solar energy system, which will offset common area energy usage, will result in approximately $15,000 of savings on electrical bills annually. The savings will help St. Ambrose provide the 70 residents with multiple improvements to each unit, including new kitchens, handicap accessible bathrooms and new HVAC units, as well as upgrades to the common areas, including a new roof, common area furniture, floors, gym equipment, computers, a back up generator and elevator upgrades.

The solar energy system will prevent 2,347 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, and is the equivalent of planting over 50,000 trees.34165992135_26aba9b219_z.jpg

On April 20th, 20 volunteers from Constellation came to help with the installation of the solar panel system. The day kicked off with an announcement of the project and a celebration with stakeholders and sponsors.

 

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Congressman John Sarbanes praised St. Ambrose for the development and preservation of Aigburth Vale over the last two decades and discussed how the partnership that enabled the solar panel installation at Aigburth Vale should be used as a model in communities across the country to help further the impact of solar energy.

Councilman David Marks commented on the importance of appreciating local history and the environment as well as effective partnerships as three components of a thriving community.

Other speakers included Gerard Joab, executive director of St. Ambrose, Bill Rubin, director of rental services, Nicole Steele, executive director of GRID Alternatives mid-Atlantic and Gary Fromer, senior VP of distributed energy at Constellation Energy.

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Left to right: GRID staff member, Nicole Steele, Congressman Sarbanes, Gerard Joab, Gary Frommer, Councilman Marks, Jane Wilson

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Pictures by GRID Alternatives and St. Ambrose

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Summer Learning at St. Ambrose

When summer rolls around, many college kids are eager to be free of commitments and head to the beach. These students, however, wanted to do something more meaningful with their time. Here are four students who are spending their summer interning with St. Ambrose.

Tasayeh Nickens,

Housing Development Intern

Tasayeh goes door-to-door in Belair-Edison, conducting surveys and collecting valuable opinions and impressions from community members about Belair-Edison.

Tasayeh heard about St. Ambrose from a friend who interned here last summer. “She was able to connect me with  Jill, who found me a position.”

DSC_5719She knew St. Ambrose would be the perfect fit. “I did my research about St. Ambrose and found what they really did interesting and very positive things for the community. I really like what they value; rehabbing homes, that’s something I’m really interested in. It really helps people who aren’t as able to purchase homes.”

Her favorite part about her internship is “being able to interact with the people in the community and hearing what they have to say about what’s going on in the city.”

During the school year, Tasayeh attends University of Alabama, where she studies social work. “I plan on becoming a licensed, clinical social worker, and I plan on working at a hospital doing medical social work. I also want to get my masters degree in social work and public health.”

Tasayeh feels that her experience at St. Ambrose is giving her a taste of the social work field “because they’re advocating for the people and the community.”

DSC_5719 (2)Courtney Watkins,

Law Clerk

Courtney works in the Legal Services Department and drafts deeds, conducts crucial legal research, and connects clients to attorneys.

Courtney plans to become a lawyer through her studies at University of Maryland  Francis King Carey School of Law. Because of her interest in housing law, a career development coach directed her to St. Ambrose. I don’t think I could have gotten the same experience elsewhere.”

“I really like that in public interest you have more hands-on work than say, at a big firm where you’re just doing legal research. I really like the experience that I get to be doing the work myself rather than just whispering in an attorney’s ear something that I found online.”

She’s trying to figure out what kind of lawyer she wants to be. “There are still so many avenues I want to explore. That’s why I’m really excited I’ve gotten to try out family law this summer.”

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Karly Horn,
Homesharing Intern

Karly personally follows up with each Homesharing client to ensure their satisfaction and is helping the department go paperless.

She recently spoke with someone who was first matched with their homesharer nearly 15 years ago. They now consider their homesharer “part of the family.” Karly’s favorite part about her work with St. Ambrose is “hearing what the program I’m part of is doing for people.”

At University of Richmond, Karly is majoring in leadership studies and minoring in history. An alumna suggested she intern at St. Ambrose, thinking it would provide her with the perfect experience. Karly structured her own interdisciplinary program for the summer, incorporating 4 internships. “I wanted to see how nonprofits are structured.”

Karly is still trying to determine her career path. “I want to help people, I just don’t know in what capacity yet.”

Maegan JamesSAM_0131

Resource Development Intern

Maegan collects stories from clients and staff alike to share for St. Ambrose’s upcoming 50th anniversary.

She connected to St. Ambrose through her summer fellowship, Walter Sondheim Jr. Maryland Nonprofit Leadership Program. “I grew up in Baltimore and have seen firsthand how housing issues can affect members of our community. St. Ambrose drew me in because they do so much to provide homes for people, making our city stronger as a whole.”

“I love that every day I hear firsthand stories from clients whose lives have been changed by the amazing people at St. Ambrose.”

Maegan hopes to serve in the Peace Corps after graduation. She knows that she wants to dedicate her life to public service, but is unsure what direction it will take her. “I know that whatever I do, I’ll always look back at this summer and think about the valuable skills I learned here at St. Ambrose.”

 

St. Ambrose Welcomes our YouthWorks Summer Employees

Summer jobs help propel teens into a productive future. Research shows that for each year teenagers work in high school, their income rises an average of 15% in their 20’s. Summer jobs for teens have been shown to correlate with a lower arrest rate, in addition to teaching lifelong lessons about responsibility. Despite these advantages, a multitude of factors have caused the share of teenagers who work during the summer to plummet since the 2000’s (NY Times).

This year, Baltimore responded to this issue by stepping up to support youth employment. State, city, and private funding poured into YouthWorks, the city’s summer jobs program, to enable all 8,000 youth applicants to be placed in a summer job this year, an increase from 5,000 last year. The uprising this spring sent a clear message to our city about the necessity of investing in our youth and providing them the opportunities to learn and grow through valuable employment opportunities. St. Ambrose offered our support to the program by sending staff over to the YouthWorks office this June to volunteer with necessary administrative tasks to ensure each youth could be placed in time for the program’s tight deadlines.

St. Ambrose and NHS of Baltimore volunteers with YouthWorks staff
St. Ambrose and NHS of Baltimore staff volunteers with YouthWorks staff

St. Ambrose welcomed our two YouthWorks summer employees last Monday to begin a summer of working and learning at St. Ambrose. Gary and Rochelle help with administrative tasks in each of the different departments at St. Ambrose giving them an opportunity to learn a little bit about each St. Ambrose program.

Rochelle

Rochelle is participating in her 4th year in a YouthWorks summer job. She will be a senior this fall at Lock Raven High School and her favorite subject is math. In addition to earning an income, she’s looking forward to taking some courses at CCBC this summer. When she grows up she wants to be a lawyer and own a small business on the side.

Gary

Gary just graduated from City High School and this is his third year participating in YouthWorks. His favorite subject is history, especially world and US history. He’s looking forward to getting some extra sleep this summer and enjoys walking around the reservoir in his neighborhood to clear his head. When he grows up he wants to be an animator.

Welcome to the St. Ambrose family, Rochelle and Gary!

Baltimore City Youth Works Program

Written by Kenyatta

My name is Kenyatta and I am a Baltimore City High School student. Through the Baltimore City YouthWorks program I have been working at St. Ambrose Aid Housing Center this summer. My first project has been working and assisting the staff of Fundraising Department.   I feel achievement when I complete a project I am given and learn more about St. Ambrose and the different elements of it. I never knew there was more work to housing besides helping people live in reasonably priced homes. I always wondered, “How does the organization for housing find the money to change the look of run down or old homes?”

During my first week in the Fundraising Department, I learned that it takes structure, organization, and appreciation to make the things happen, provide the tools we apply to succeed and thank the people who have donated. I feel more appreciative because I am a part of changing other people’s lives for the better. I do plan to one day intern here or even volunteer for a year because I enjoy the structure and opportunity to make a difference.

I have helped the staff by giving part of my time and effort to display proof of our work represented in newspaper articles. I feel others would appreciate and believe that St. Ambrose is doing more than just giving someone a place to live, they’re giving them a home. The stories and emotions I hear from clients that don’t know what other things go on beyond finding the right home is incredible. To hear that I was a part of someone’s life who didn’t know it but helped them to smile and have a better tomorrow, it made me proud and happy to do something special.

I’ve also worked in the Rental Department and have learned how big St. Ambrose is. They have various properties that I’m proud to share that I learned about while sorting files and learning about each location. I’ve learned about ways of getting my own place by looking through different programs and what areas or people to contact. I have also learned about the different types of clients St. Ambrose can help or even direct for referral service.

I’ve enjoyed this experience with a lot of hard hours and focusing on my goal to make my projects excellent. I think everyone can gain a little more knowledge from helping others no matter what the organization is. I believe people can grow, like I have, from this experience and can incorporate more into their daily life. Helping people and change is what makes life better and more joyous. I do hope more people can look at my experience here as a sign of something worth doing and something great.

Summer at St. Ambrose: Sustaining Community Connections

For a few days during the week, I work at St. Ambrose. In the morning and evening as I walk to and from the revitalized row houses that are St. Ambrose, I am most often greeted by someone who is going to work, returning home, or unwinding on their front porch. This exchange brings to mind an image of affability that seems to be a remnant of my parents’ generation.

I am always surprised when I talk to my peers, who should feel that life is at its peak, that they truly feel lonely and disconnected. It is the irony of my generation, that with more means of communication than any previous generation, we are lacking an intrinsic sense of connection. As I simultaneously visualize these two generational images – neighbors greeting one another from their porches, verses individuals posting updates of their locations and activities on the internet – it seems clear that the significance of verbal communication and face-to-face connection is eroding. With this erosion of face-to-face interaction and connection is a loss of community.

During the past couple of weeks, I attended several St. Ambrose events. One weekend, I went to St. Ambrose’s picnic at Herring Run Park, which celebrated the revitalization of 137 homes in the Belair-Edison neighborhood. St. Ambrose homeowners and community members in the Belair-Edison area, as well as St. Ambrose staff were able to eat, dance, and socialize. Last week, I joined numerous community development organizations in saying goodbye to the Baltimore Neighborhood Collaborative (BNC), and reflecting on the work the organization completed in revitalizing and recreating neighborhoods to be safe, livable, cared for, and attractive.

These events are significant because they exemplify the building of community. The idea of community is a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. I am convinced that fellowship is a product of personal interaction, and that these celebrations of accomplishments encourage fellowship by recognizing the fulfillment of shared goals.

The St. Ambrose Legal Department is partnering with Community Law In Action (CLIA), an organization that works with youth to build them into leaders who will help transform their own communities. St. Ambrose attorneys are participating in the Corporate Mentoring program of CLIA. In this program, high school juniors and seniors are involved in many activities, one of which involves site visits to a Baltimore office, once a month. During these Mentor Days, students work on advocacy projects under the supervision of an attorney, participate in conversations with speakers about college, careers, and the legal profession, have mentoring sessions to work on SATs and college applications, and visit Annapolis.

In partnering with CLIA, St. Ambrose is continuing its mission of community development by engaging with a generation of young community members. The attorneys and students interact in a space that reconciles the goals and attitudes of both an older and younger generation. Gaining experience, attending college, and participating in community advocacy is part of individual and community development in the present, but CLIA is also involved in preserving the importance of face-to-face communication, interaction, and connection.

Phillip Westry, an attorney at St. Ambrose and a past director of the CLIA Youth Connection Program, describes the significance of mentoring as, “filling in a gap”. Phillip explains that students are able to gain the information and experience needed to more firmly establish their own educational and career goals. The personal connection and interaction that is also a part of mentoring, founds a base of support, encouragement, and connection, allowing young people to explore with confidence. As CLIA exemplifies, connection and community need not erode with every passing generation, if today’s community leaders and builders continue to include an ideal of affability within and among generations and people.

Summer at St. Ambrose: My Introduction into St. Ambrose

As a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, I am slowly becoming more cognizant of the vast range of responsibilities that accompany entrance into adulthood. The “college life” allowed for an extended period of youth, wherein everything from living and eating, to a gym membership was simply waiting for me: I did not have to figure life out, I simply signed up. So now, as I am preparing to attend law school, get an apartment, start repaying loans, find transportation for navigating the city, buy and prepare food for myself, etc., I realize that I cannot just sign up; I have to figure out exactly what I am signing up for. One fundamental need that adults must figure out and sign up for, is homeownership or renter-ship, as having a secure refuge is intrinsic to subsistence and well-being. I, in my extended youth, have taken for granted the reality that having a space that is a home, is the product of a complex process, and furthermore that the security a home is expected to provide may be confounded by the insecurity that the processes of home owning and renting are disposed to.

Over the summer, I am interning as a legal assistant at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a community-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing housing opportunities and assistance to people living in the surrounding neighborhoods. The legal department of St. Ambrose specializes in providing representation for foreclosure mediation as well as advice on legal issues that may be encountered throughout the process of owning a home. During my first few days here, as I have listened to the attorneys discuss cases, witnessed meetings between attorneys and clients, performed intake calls where clients describe their housing issues, and observed mediations in which an individual attempts to save her/his home, my vocabulary has been flooded with terms whose meanings and significance were previously foreign to me. My ignorance of terminology such as foreclosure, mortgage, equity, title, deed, affidavit, short sale, under-water, loss mitigation, modification, bankruptcy, and so on signaled my lack of understanding of what it means to own a home, retain that ownership, and what happens when that ownership is compromised or threatened.

My ignorance of home-owning, could be attributed to a number of explanations, including the naiveté of youth; whatever the cause, however, the basic question for myself and others who are similarly uninformed is, how do I become educated about home owning, retention, and loss, so that I can figure out what I am signing up for? From whom do I learn what the intricacies and jargon of home owning processes actually mean and require of me? Where do I learn what and when I am entitled to assistance or protections? Follow me on this blog series, “Summer at St. Ambrose”, as I participate in the culture of St. Ambrose, learning not only the answers to housing questions, but also the variety of ways in which St. Ambrose influences community strength by helping to form a foundation of informed and stable homeowners.

ShelterForce: 2nd in Series of 50 Years of the War on Poverty

There is No “Culture of Poverty”

Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on February 5, 2014

“At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.”

– The 1965 U.S. Department of Labor Report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action

This is the second in a series of posts that I’m working on to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the architects of the War on Poverty and assistant secretary of labor under President Johnson, is popularly identified with the concept of “the culture of poverty.” While he did not coin the term, Moynihan certainly did more than most to put the idea into national consciousness, particularly in the direct association between the culture of poverty and black urban life.

But this post is not about him. It’s about how the concept of the “culture of poverty” and how Moynihan’s vision of it shapes many of our deeply held, unstated perceptions/assumptions about poverty.

And about how many of these assumptions are wrong.

The Culture of Poverty
In 1962, in his influential book about poverty (said to have inspired Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and named one of Time magazine’s top 10 works of 20th century non-fiction), The Other America, Michael Harrington introduced mainstream America to the concept of “the culture of poverty.” In 1965, then U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary and former Harrington drinking buddy, Moynihan modified/expanded upon Harrington’s version of culture of poverty concepts and applied them more explicitly and specifically to African Americans in a report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

Moynihan argued that “three centuries of mistreatment” had led to a “tangle of pathology”—crime, promiscuity, lack of education—that created a near inescapable cycle of poverty and disadvantage. At the heart of this tangle—the fundamental cause of it all—was the “deterioration of the Negro family.”

Moynihan wrote: “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is to [sic] out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole…”

Moynihan intended that his report would be a call to action for the nation to do more about addressing what he saw as the root causes of poverty.

The title of the report, after all, includes the words “The Case for National Action.” And Moynihan wrote that it was the responsibility of the federal government and its citizens to do more to eliminate poverty, “strengthen the Negro family” and set right “three centuries of injustice.”

However, from when the internal report leaked to the public, Moynihan immediately was the subject of intense criticism from his left flank—from civil rights advocates, feminists and anti-poverty activists who accused him of racism, sexism, victim blaming, etc. In the years following, as conservatives appropriated the report’s broken family/tangle of pathology vocabulary (while ignoring its national call to action), the term “culture of poverty” came to stand more and more for the idea that poor family values and government dependency had created poverty and that a return to “traditional family values” was what was needed to eliminate poverty, not more government programs.

Poverty Is About Jobs, Not Culture
The intersection of work, family and the economy has changed drastically in the past 50 years. More women work. Divorce and children born outside of marriage are far more common. Non-Hispanic white families of today have rates of single-female headed households and of children in unmarried households, etc. that are comparable to the rates of African Americans during the 1960s. But non-Hispanic whites still have the lowest poverty rates of any major racial/ethnic group.

White society and economic conditions did not collapse because of increased matriarchy. Of poverty populations, both Hispanics and Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have higher rates of married family households than non-Hispanic whites but both populations have higher poverty rates than non-Hispanic whites. For families in poverty, roughly 60 percent of AAPI families are households headed by married couples. For the general poverty population, roughly 30 percent of families are headed by married couples. And despite this, since the recession, AAPIs have been the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in poverty. Marriage, “intact families,” or a hypothetical cultural value placed on marriage and family structure are no silver bullet against poverty. As we have a better understanding of the many forms that families can take and as the poverty population becomes more multicultural, the causal link (at a moral/cultural level, at least) between marriage/family structure and economic outcomes seems weaker and weaker.

If there is any correlation between marriage and poverty, it is about jobs. Families with two or more wage earners (who do not have to be married and do not have to be different genders) are more likely to be able to move out of poverty than a family with only one wage earner. This makes sense in that poverty as a cold, hard statistic is primarily measure of income. Two incomes means the likelihood of more money. Two potential wage-earners means a level of insurance/ability to weather hard times if one job is lost. But this is not something that is necessarily about marriage or is something inherently about “a culture of poverty.”

There are plenty of poor people with good values and who work hard who have been and will be poor their entire lives. There are plenty of people who have had crappy home lives and whose lives are desperate tangles of pathologies but who have been and will be rich all their lives. Poverty is about income. Poverty is about jobs and job quality. Take my personal story as an example. I was raised by a single mother. My mother and father were never married, I never knew my father and my family never knew any support from him. But we were never poor. This is because my mother had a union job as a nurse at a public hospital. Not to take anything away from my mother’s personal strength or the strength of her values or of the values that she instilled in me, but poverty is about jobs and who happens to be lucky enough to have a good one (or about who is lucky enough to be born with rich parents, but that’s another story). Poverty is about scarcity, not about marital status. And because there will never be enough good jobs for everybody to have one, we know that there will always be poor people. Ascribing after-the-fact cultural causes to this inevitability obscures the real issues.

Moving Forward
The War on Poverty was initiated during heady times—urban unrest, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, etc. The time period was also saw the birth of poverty as an official government unit of measurement and the concept of poverty entering more widely into mainstream parlance. Our deeply held, mostly unstated, beliefs about poverty (and especially about poverty and race) stem from this time period, from this crucible, whether we were alive then or not. Most of us, I would wager, still think of American poverty as largely urban (more specifically, urban Northeast and rustbelt Midwest) and black. But the demographics of poverty have changed and the geography of poverty is also changing.

But regardless of the changing composition and distribution of the poverty population, much of the current debate about the legacy of the War on Poverty is rehashing old conflicts about race, about the role of government, about culture and values—a big clash of visions and mythologies that was never fully resolved in the 1960s. In this context, Rand Paul can use the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit as a backdrop to comment upon the failure of “big government” to address poverty—to sound the dog whistle of race and the supposed intractability of the culture of poverty—all the while putting out a kinder, gentler GOP rhetoric around race, poverty and tax cuts.

In the mainstream, slightly-left-of-center-world of policy wonks, whether we fully acknowledge this to ourselves or not, also continue to work from outdated and racist paradigms of race and poverty, tending to think of poverty in terms of cultural deficits while making policy prescriptions for parenting classes, school accountability, financial education, etc. Not that these are bad programs, per se. Many of these programs are worthy and are worth the investments we make in them. But we shouldn’t be putting the burden of “solving” poverty on such programs nor should we be transmitting the message to people that there is something inherently wrong with them (or their culture) for happening to be poor.

Moving forward, I believe we need a deeper, more nuanced national conversation about race and poverty. I also believe we need a broader, large-scale recommitment to economic equity and economic justice. To do both of these well, we need to revisit and re-examine all of our unstated, unconscious (racialized) beliefs about poverty and culture.

(Photo from the National Institute’s of Health Library CC BY-NC-SA)

About the author more »

Josh Ishimatsu is Director of Capacity Building and Research for National CAPACD.