By Christi Green

St. Francis Neighborhood Center (SFNC) has been a fixture in Baltimore for the past 57 years, during which time we’ve seen positive change and disheartening stagnation. We have stood against storms, against the lions of injustice and shoulder to shoulder with the black community in the fight against poverty and oppression. SFNC has also stood to help disadvantaged children and families overcome the challenges that continue to plague our city each and every day.

In the 1960s and 70s, SFNC fought against the tide of extreme poverty, chronic illness, a broken education system, and the lack of well-paying jobs. The civil unrest of 1967 and 1968 took place against a backdrop of police brutality, institutionalized, systemic racism, and entrenched poverty in the black community.

From the recession that crippled our economy in the 1980s to the murder of Freddie Gray just five years ago, St. Francis has been there to meet the challenge. Though the civil unrest that followed brought many of these issues to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, little has changed since that last set of disturbances and protests. St. Francis Neighborhood Center has stood in solidarity with those who’ve fought injustice since 1963. Today, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we continue to stand in solidarity with community groups and protesters demonstrating for change.

Over the years, we’ve fed thousands who were hungry, counseled those who were troubled, brought our community together peacefully and safely, and helped rebuild fractured relationships between Baltimore City Police and city residents.

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the people and communities we serve in Baltimore. When we first learned that Baltimore City Public Schools would be forced to close, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Within 10 days of the closing, we loaned all 60 of our mobile lab laptop computers to families in our program. Students already had login access to our online learning program, which allowed us to monitor their progress. Nearly 60 percent of our youth and parents have logged on daily.

We were able to quickly respond to this crisis in large part due to our long-term partnership with Comcast. St. Francis Neighborhood Center was one of Comcast’s original Internet Essentials Learning Zones, bringing broadband service directly to our community center for those who did not have internet access at home. Comcast shares our strong, ongoing commitment to closing the digital divide in our communities and recently extended its 60-day offer of free internet service to all eligible, new Internet Essentials customers through the end of this year.

Another point of strength over the past several months has been our ability to connect every family in our program with a staff member who, through daily video or phone calls, checks in and provides academic support and resources to an already vulnerable community, helping over 1,000 people in just the last six weeks alone.

When we opened our doors as a small grassroots nonprofit in 1963, we vowed to help end generational poverty in West Baltimore by providing much-needed resources in the Penn North and Reservoir Hill communities. As the oldest community center in Baltimore, we’re still here fighting to help city residents through some of their most challenging times.

For nearly six decades, the St. Francis Neighborhood Center has remained true to our mission and the Baltimore families we serve by supporting educational initiatives and providing holistic intervention programs at no cost to our community. Through the years, we were there, consistent and community-driven, during times of crisis and calm. And still, we press on.

Now that you know us, we invite you to see us, support us and believe in us. And, we’ll keep being there every day, meeting the challenge in Baltimore. After all, we’re all in this together.

Christi Green is executive director of St. Francis Neighborhood Center located at 2405 Linden Avenue in Baltimore.

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