By David Marshall
Special to the AFRO

The St. Francis Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit community center serving children in West Baltimore, is back home after nearly three years of conducting services off-site because of construction delays and the pandemic. 

More than 100 well-wishers came out Saturday, October 2 to help the center open the 5.6 million dollar newly renovated and expanded space located at 2405 Linden Ave. in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.

The newly constructed addition to the St. Francis Neighborhood Center (right) is part of the 5.6 million dollar phase one project. Pictured on the far left is the original center. (photo by David Marshall).

“This means everything to us,” said Christi Green, the center’s executive director. “I say all the time the kids who use this center are my bosses. They wanted more opportunities, more services, newer facilities, and today we are delivering on their wishes.” 

When it was time to view the building, attendees formed a human tunnel waving decorated welcome signs and colored pom poms cheering neighborhood children as they paraded into the new facility for the first time.

Among those rooting them in were Mayor Brandon Scott, State Senator Antonio Hayes, Council President Nick Mosby, Councilman James Torrence, retired State Senator Barbara Robinson, and other dignitaries.

Supporters of The St. Francis Neighborhood Center gathered for opening remarks by city officials and board members. (photo by David Marshall)

“To see what is happening here is a big win for our city. Investing in our children is an investment in the prosperity for all of Baltimore,” said Scott. 

The center boasts new classrooms, a kitchen, a computer lab, an elevator, and an art center among the improvements.

“It’s very beautiful,” said 10-year-old Makenzie Wallace as she as checked out the computer lab. “They say we can use this room whenever we like.”

A roaring crowd welcomed neighborhood children to The St. Francis Neighborhood Center as they entered the new facility for the first time since the reopening (photo: David Marshall)

Wallace participated in the center’s virtual summer enrichment program this year that included arts and academics. She said she can’t wait to get involved with the after school programs that start Monday, October 4.

Her mother LaTara Wallace said children in the neighborhood need these services to help secure a path to a good life.

“There are so many positive things that happen in West Baltimore, but we all know there are some challenges that can prevent young people from reaching their full potential,” said Wallace “I can see with my own eyes St. Francis is making a difference in my daughter’s life. I wish  every child had this opportunity.”

Mayor Brandon Scott surrounded by city and state officials brings greetings at the reopening of The St. Francis Neighborhood Center October 2. (photo by David Marshall)

According to a 2018 state report, the child poverty rate in Baltimore City was a little over 33%, the second highest in the state. The poverty rate is based off an income of $24,300 for a family of four according to the report. 

Green said that there are 1,200 children in the Reservoir Hill and Penn North areas that live below the poverty line, making the center’s free services crucial to area families.

According to Green, the center now serves 75 children. When the second phase of the construction project is finished, she is hoping to serve 200 children with monthly after school programming.

The new computer lab at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center will host technology literacy classes. (photo by David Marshall)

The new kitchen at The St. Francis Neighborhood Center will be used to feed children participating in the program and also will be a place for students to learn the art of cooking.

The center said it needs to raise an additional 2.6 million dollars from private and public donations to finish the last phase of the expansion by the end of next year.

A staple in Reservoir Hill since 1963, the center is one of the oldest community centers of its kind in Baltimore.

LaTara Wallace (left) and her daughter Makenzie check out one of the new classrooms at St. Francis Neighborhood Center in West Baltimore October 2. (photo by David Marshall)

Sixteen-year-old Edahkiah Watson was a program participant at the center studying photography in the after school program. He is now an intern at the center using his skills on October 2 to document the center’s reopening. (photo by David Marshall)

The writer is Professor and Chair of The Department of Strategic Communication at Morgan State University.

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