O’Hara Development Partners, a community development company, gathers to unveil the renderings for the new Ujamma Cove Park in the East Baltimore Midway neighborhood. (Courtesy photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
msayles@afro.com

O’Hara Development Partners (O’Hara), a Baltimore-based community development company, recently unveiled its renderings for a new park in the East Baltimore Midway neighborhood. The Ujamaa Cove Park will provide residents with a community garden, children’s play area, stage and ample green space for relaxation. 

During the event, O’Hara planted an apple tree and dedicated it to JPMorgan Chase, which has partnered with the development company to teach financial health classes and offer homeownership training to neighborhood families. 

“For a long time, I felt like organizations, like JPMorgan Chase, were untouchable. It didn’t feel like it was a community bank, it felt like it was only for the elite,” said Joanna J. Bartholomew, CEO of O’Hara. “When I started to feel that their messaging was changing, I said, ‘Let me see what it’s really about,’ and JPMorgan Chase has been authentic to its core.” 

Established in 2017, O’Hara is a community development company that restores vacant homes and revives vacant lots in urban communities to generate quality homeownership and rental opportunities and healthy, safe green spaces for families to enjoy.

JPMorgan Chase Divisional Director of Network Expansion Michele Lawrence and Baltimore Community Manager Joel Gamble plant a tree at the unveiling of the renderings for Ujamma Cove Park. A tree was dedicated to JPMorgan Chase to honor the firm’s support with hosting financial wellness and homeownership training. (Courtesy photo)

The company also maintains a nonprofit-arm that provides individuals with housing counseling services and financial wellness workshops. 

In the East Baltimore Midway community, O’Hara owns nearly 25 properties and has plans to transform them into livable homes, as well as to convert some of the properties into duplexes for renters. 

After purchasing the .25 acres for the new park in 2021, O’Hara launched its It Takes A Village initiative to improve safety for residents and provide creative open and outdoor spaces to promote community engagement and wellness. The initiative also allowed residents to lead the planning process for the park.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bartholomew knew many families were faced with financial uncertainty, and she wanted O’Hara to serve as a source of information to help families navigate their financial challenges. 

Bartholomew discovered JPMorgan Chase’s $30-billion commitment to racial equity and long-standing dedication to financial health and sought the firm’s support and expertise to bolster families’ financial literacy and homeownership knowledge. 

“The connectivity around what Joanna wanted to do with homeownership, creating safe spaces for children and allowing existing neighbors to become homeowners also lined up with our desire to say, ‘How do we educate, equip and come alongside organizations, like O’Hara, to accomplish that?” said Michele Lawrence, divisional director of network expansion for JPMorgan Chase. “We were able to partner our community manager at the time with Joanna, and they were able to do a number of financial health workshops together.” 

During the financial health classes, JPMorgan Chase professionals covered the fundamentals of budgeting, goal-setting and saving and focused on changing the spending behaviors of consumers. They also discussed borrowing, debt management, credit counseling and how to prepare for homeownership. 

According to Bartholomew, the JPMorgan Chase team were some of the first people to tour properties and walk the East Baltimore Midway Community with her, so it was important to honor their support in the Ujamaa Cove Park.  

The park is expected to have its ribbon-cutting next September. 

“We are not the savior, but we are very intentional about being a part of the solution. It meant a great deal to take that tree and put it in the Earth, so that it can have strong roots,” said Lawrence.  “We are looking to come alongside to do that with O’Hara Development Partners, help with its roots so that as the company grows, as Joanna’s vision grows, it’ll bear much fruit.”

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