The Story of Ms. J.

St. Ambrose Rental Services Client Story     

Ms. J. may be 22 years old, but her life experiences quickly gave her the tools necessary to survive life on the streets as a young mother in Baltimore. When Ms. J. graduated from high school, her newborn son Luke was there in the audience to support her. Following graduation, Ms. J. had been kicked out of the only home she has ever known due to her mother’s struggles with addiction.

Ms. J. only had one option: to move in with her boyfriend, the father of her child. This would allow her to begin schooling and obtain her Medical Assistance certification. Unfortunately, due to a volatile home situation, Ms. J. had to withdraw from school and she and Luke had to flee to a domestic violence shelter. As a single mother living on the streets with a baby she wondered, “Why didn’t I just wait to have a child? But I didn’t.” Ms. J. knew it was time to reach out to community resources for help. 

Ms. J.’s Case Manager from Maryland Health Care Connection referred her to St. Ambrose’s Rental Services Program and Leah Mason-Grant, Senior Manager of Rental Services. “Leah is always so kind and helpful to Luke and me. She treats us exactly like we are all a part of one family.”

Ms. J. was then connected with Darrell, St. Ambrose Case Manager, whom she found to be extremely helpful on her journey. “Darrell helped me find the job I have now. I was only babysitting when he helped me find an on-call, floating IEP (Individualized Education Program) position in the Baltimore city schools. This allows me to help children in the school system that require extra assistance, guidance and are special needs.” After one year, Ms. J. will be eligible for a full-time position at a permanent school location.

Ms. J. and Luke, almost 4 years old, now live in a St. Ambrose rental property. They have a two-bedroom townhouse to call their own and they love their new life. “The home was so big and beautiful! I never had anything like that before. It means everything to me that I have a nice home to raise my son in.”

What’s next for Ms. J.? Ms. J. would appreciate the opportunity to go back to college. Her sister is a driving force for this because as a Phlebotomist and Mortuary Science student, her sister has expressed an interest in opening a family mortuary business with Ms. J., but she has to get a degree first.

Ms. J.’s plan is to get a more permanent job, get accepted to college and start her son in school. “Thank you Darrell, Leah and St. Ambrose for everything you have done for us!”

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.

Gerard Joab’s First 100 Days at St. Ambrose

Gerard Joab, who became St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center’s Executive Director in December, 2011 after founder Vincent Quayle’s departure, has been on the job for a little over three months. I had the opportunity to meet with him last Thursday to see how it was going.

Though his last job was in New Jersey, Joab’s beginnings were in Baltimore, so there’s a sense that he is coming home. In New Jersey, Joab was the Executive Director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Greater Newark and Jersey City. LISC provides funding and technical assistance for community development corporations. As director at LISC, Joab facilitated funding and support to organizations like St. Ambrose. Thus, he has an intricate understanding of the funding processes these organizations undergo as well as the obstacles they may face, and ultimately the elements necessary for success.

Joab has been taking the first few months as Executive Director to “learn, learn, learn”. While reacquainting himself with Baltimore, Joab is also getting familiar with the programs available at St. Ambrose and is continuously impressed by the depth and breadth of services available. “It is important to hold on to and affirm the history of St. Ambrose,” says Joab, indicating that there are no plans to make programmatic changes. He wants to reassure the community that St. Ambrose will continue to be a strong presence in the Baltimore community and a wealth of resources for all. Joab is eager to share the good news of the strength and diversity of St. Ambrose’s services, and offers a warm welcome to all those interested in participating and partnering.

As Joab explores the program offerings, he has seen how and why specific programs are utilized. He explains how the foreclosure prevention program has become one of St. Ambrose’s premier programs in recent times. “Because of the economic environment, foreclosure has been front and center”. In addition to foreclosure prevention, St. Ambrose excels in managing 300 rental sites across the city and in Baltimore County with the belief that quality rental opportunities lead to neighborhood stabilization. Another neighborhood stabilization program that stands out at St. Ambrose is Homesharing, which provides a unique and innovative approach to community building and strengthening neighborhoods. Homesharing, which helps homeowners stay in their homes, can stave off foreclosure and make houses more affordable.

The commitment to housing is palpable, but to everyone at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a home is more than a house. It’s a house in a stable, strong, and supportive community where people can live, learn, work, and grow, where dreams can be had and goals can be achieved, where children are safe and have access to more opportunities than their parents.

After 100 days as the new Executive Director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Gerard Joab is full of energy, enthusiasm, and experience. “Everything that I’ve done has prepared me for today and what I do today will prepare me for tomorrow,” he says.