Loyola University Maryland's York Road Initiative strengthens community, economy in urban neighborhood
By Nick Alexopulos, Media Relations Manager, Loyola University Maryland
Before summer 2011, residents of the greater Govans neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland, had no local access to something most Americans take for granted: fresh fruits and vegetables.
Govans, an area of Baltimore City neighborhoods located directly east of Loyola University Maryland’s Evergreen campus along the corridor of York Road, is home to one of the many tight-knit communities that give Baltimore its charm and rich, vibrant history. What Govans lacks, however, is a grocery store, despite demand from longtime residents.
That’s why Loyola’s York Road Initiative brought together other community partners last July to create and organize the Govanstowne Farmers’ Market, making affordable, fresh, and local produce readily available for the neighborhood. The farmers’ market is one of the flagship programs of the York Road Initiative and exemplifies the initiative’s overall goal to improve the quality of life for those living, working, and learning in the Govans/York Road corridor. The collaborative effort involves community constituencies, including neighborhood residents and associations, faith-based, civic, and business organizations, public and private leaders, and other partners.
“As a Jesuit institution, our mission guides us to be a leading source of positive change for the community,” said Erin O’Keefe, ’03, director of the York Road Initiative.
Founded in 2008, the York Road Initiative anchors the community engagement element of Loyola’s current strategic plan, which recognizes that Loyola’s Jesuit, Catholic identity does not allow for the University’s intellectual community to exist in isolation.
“Our whole University community needs to come to understand the world as it is and we don’t do that exclusively by lectures or laboratory work,” said Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola. “We really need to know something about how folks live and be confronted with the realities of life today. I think that engenders very serious intellectual reflection on the part of students, faculty, administrators, and staff. I think there are enormous learning opportunities here and opportunities for personal conversion by working with folks who are struggling.”
Organizers of the initiative developed focus areas through discussions with Govans residents during the Loyola is Listening project. Following this discernment process, the initiative began to act, aiming to build civic capacity through strengthening area neighborhoods and community groups, enhance education and youth development through partnerships with local schools and community institutions, and strengthen the York Road commercial corridor through economic and business development.
The York Road Initiative is involved in numerous projects in each of these focus areas, and its staff of O’Keefe, one AmeriCorps*VISTA, a Loyola graduate student assistant, and multiple undergraduate volunteers, regularly identifies opportunities to collaborate with Loyola partners on everything from neighborhood cleanups to consulting to advocacy.
“Loyola can offer a variety of resources through our departments, our individual faculty and staff members, and students,” O’Keefe said. “Whether the student marketing club is offering workshops for local small businesses on how to utilize Facebook and Twitter or a faculty member is making connections between their research and a community need, this initiative gives us an opportunity to engage the University as a whole in what’s happening on the ground in the broad neighborhood of which we are a part.”
Students from Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and Management worked with the Senior Network of North Baltimore, a senior activity center which serves more than 700 seniors per year, on a strategic plan and the implementation of technology into their daily lives. Sellinger School undergraduate and MBA students developed marketing ideas to help the Govanstowne Business Association draw more consumers to local businesses in the community, as well as analyses of the financial sustainability of the local city-run recreation center. Futhermore, students from Loyola’s college of arts and sciences developed websites for local community associations, strengthening neighborhood connections and outreach.
Through the York Road Initiative, multiple Loyola entities are involved in the much-needed revitalization of the DeWees Recreation Center, which was recently awarded a $5,000 improvement grant from the Maxwell House Drops of Good competition. O’Keefe will be working with the Mid-Govans Community Association and Rebuilding Together Baltimore this spring to organize a volunteer day to make repairs and upgrades to DeWees and 25 homes in Govans.
Youth outreach in Govans also includes support from Loyola’s Center for Community Service and Justice on the Acts4Youth after school education program at Guilford Elementary, along with free tickets to games and events offered by Loyola’s athletics department. In addition, the Student Government Association is heavily involved in organizing events for the community and recruiting students for cleanup and beautification projects.
“Loyola has already had a major impact on the growth and shared strength of our neighborhoods,” said Bill Henry, MBA ’06, the Baltimore City councilman who represents the community. “The York Road Initiative is a model for successful civic capacity-building that could – and should – be implemented by other organizations in communities across our great city.”
The York Road Initiative is already looking ahead to year three of what Govans residents identified as a number-one priority during Loyola is Listening: the farmers’ market. After expanding from four weeks to 10 and attracting additional vendors in its second installment last summer, the farmers’ market was chosen by the United Way for a pilot project for researching food access in low income areas. In 2012 alone, vendors sold more than $4,000 in fruits and vegetables by accepting federal, state, and local benefits. Everyone involved hopes to further build on that success in 2013.