Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WBC CDC and AmeriCorps NCCC featured in Baltimore Times article

WBC Community Development Corporation featured in article in Baltimore Times.

Spirit of Volunteerism Rebuilds

Written by Ron Kipling Williams

Tennis shoes hanging from telephone wires marked drug territory on West Baltimore’s Fairview Avenue. Thanks to native Denise Harper and a community coalition, the tennis shoes have come down and the drug dealing presence has diminished. 

Harper returned to the neighborhood. She purchased a dilapidated corner house at 3200 Chelsea Terrace dominated by dealers. “People thought I was crazy to return,” said Harper, who lived for a time in Owings Mills. 

After threats to her life and property, she enlisted the help of law enforcement. Baltimore City Police Department NW District Commanding Officer Major Nathan Warfield and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy and her staff took action.

A half a block away is a Peace Garden. Three years ago the lot was overrun with weeds and debris. Now it is a place of meditation, with gravel pathways, perennial and annual flowers, picnic benches and lawn furniture, a butterfly garden, and a budding art mural. The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks also got involved, planting 40 trees.

Harper’s return has been a journey of community reclamation, back to a time when everyone knew their neighbors, and well kept properties reflected a sense of pride.

Three years ago, she created the WBC, Community Development Corporation (WBC CDC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works with the WWFF-BOC (Woodhaven Wolcott Fairview Bonner Oakfield Chelsea) Neighborhood Association.

WFF-BOC is a relatively quiet community, with tree-lined streets and Tudor, row, bungalow and Victorian styled homes. They are minutes from city parks and a golf course. “It is one of the best secrets in Baltimore,” said Executive Director Harper.

This past May, the WBC CDC was awarded a $12 million tax credit to build Wayland Village Senior Center, a 90-unit independent senior affordable rental housing facility, one of the largest in West Baltimore.

When WBC CDC began, the community was suffering from decreasing home values, high rental properties and a 60-70 percent population of underserved seniors.

Harper called neighboring Wayland Baptist Church to assist. The 100-year old institution immediately jumped in.  At first residents did not see Harper’s vision. “What’s around you controls what you feel,” said Harper. “When you constantly see trash, your mind and body starts to feel like trash.”

Enter AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), federal government program that sends 18-24 year olds around the country to provide disaster relief and other services. “It’s challenging but rewarding,” said 22-year old Gretchen Sneegas.  AmeriCorps NCCC provides each volunteer a stipend and health insurance coverage. At the end of their 10 month commitment volunteers receive about $5200 toward college tuition. They even assist high school dropouts to receive their GED.

“They opened my eyes to what’s important— making an impact on the future,” said 21-year old Chad Kennedy, a North Carolina native.

The first AmeriCorps NCCC team came in the spring, sponsored by Dru-Mondawmin Healthy Families and WBC CDC, who focused their service on community outreach, particularly expecting mothers regarding pregnancy and parenting issues. Additionally, they reestablish block leaders and recreated community fellowship.

The second team, which arrived this summer, will be in the community until September 18, 2009. “It’s very rewarding and challenging,” said Team Leader Peter Czarkowski, who before AmeriCorps NCCC, helped Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. “It requires a lot of planning and organizing, and 24-7 social skills.”

The crew is currently working on the Fairview Avenue Fellowship Project. The 3917 Fairview Avenue property had been vacant for 20 years.

On Saturday, August 8, 2009 a celebration for the volunteers was held at the Peace Garden with games, food and music. 

Last year, WBC CDC organized the city’s only Martin Luther King Campaign for Peace, which featured legendary activist/comedian Dick Gregory and State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy. Over 200 churches and 1000 persons participated. “We’re looking to create a movement,” said Harper, “To create a positive identity.”

To learn more about WBC CDC, please call 410-578-9142 or 410-209-7280, or email  You may also visit their blog at

To learn more about AmeriCorps NCCC, contact them at 1-800-942-2677, or visit their website at

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