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Charlestown Residents Help Baltimore City's Sandtown Neighborhood to Rebuild

March 8, 2017

CATONSVILLE, MD (March 7, 2017) -- If there is any truth to the old adage "Actions speak louder than words," then residents of Charlestown retirement community can be heard loud and clear.


After the 2015 riots in Baltimore City, Charlestown volunteers came together to donate their time and talents through projects designed to renew and revitalize the Sandtown-Winchester community. They call themselves the Charlestown-Sandtown Connection. 


"Just because we don't live in Baltimore City doesn't mean we can't relate to what goes on there. We attend concerts, go to ballgames and museums, and when we have visitors from out of town we take them to the Inner Harbor," says David Pollitt, co-chair of the group. 


In early 2016, Charlestown volunteers met with five different Sandtown organizations: New Song Community Learning Center, which has addressed educational needs in Baltimore City since 1991; Habitat for Humanity, which has refurbished many homes in Sandtown; Intersection of Change (formerly Newborn Holistic Ministries), a community-based nonprofit focused on community development; No Boundaries Coalition, a resident-led advocacy group working on safety, voter turnout, and youth work; and BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development), a nonpartisan, interfaith, multiracial community organization, to learn more about the Sandtown community and how they could help. 


"We had a hundred residents attend the forum, and 58 of them signed up saying they were interested in finding out more about the group or wanted to volunteer. We were overwhelmed by the response," says David. 


As a result, four Charlestown-Sandtown subcommittees focused on advocacy and housing, education, funding, and Two Communities Coming Together.


"Our goal is not to tell the people of Sandtown what to do but to listen, learn, understand, and respond to what they are doing with whatever resources we have and encourage them in any way we can," says David. 


David is among a group of volunteers who visit the New Song Community Learning Center as part of an after school program. Charlestown volunteers teach knitting, read with children, and help hand out snacks. David is one of four volunteers who teach chess. Recently, the group participated in a book drive to provide books for the classroom libraries.


Another volunteer, Bert Clegern, a biologist and entomologist, consults for an urban farm planted on 1.5 acres on the west side of Baltimore on what was once vacant land. The farm grows organic produce including arugula, lettuce, okra, mustard greens, kale, turnips, radish, beets, a variety of peppers, and heirloom tomatoes for local restaurants, grocery stores, food pantries, and churches.


"They have what are called hoop houses, which are plastic-covered structures, similar to a greenhouse," says Bert. "I work with the farm manager, and we discuss any problems they have encountered and exchange ideas. 


"One thing they really needed was hand tools," he adds. "So we donated a batch of hand tools and also helped them purchase a large tool box, which can be locked and secured. Currently, we are helping them raise money to build professional composters so that they can recycle their vegetative materials." 


As part of a beautification project, Charlestown volunteers donated flower pots. Along with Sandtown youth, they filled the pots and placed them in front of homes along Division Street.  


Co-chair Phyllis Lansing and 28 Charlestown volunteers attended a block party in Sandtown last April where they had a chance to meet local residents and help hand out voter guides. Phyllis leads Charlestown's chapter of the League of Women Voters, a grassroots nonpartisan national political organization comprised of women and men working to improve the systems of government.


"I am just glad to see relationships forming between the residents of Charlestown and the residents of Sandtown," says Phyllis. "We can help in small ways."


"We have about a hundred Charlestown residents who are working in some fashion with the Charlestown-Sandtown Connection, and we are fully supported by the Charlestown Administration," says David. "Charlestown is a very diverse community. We have people with a lot of talent and energy who want to get involved. We have gotten to know a number of outstanding people from the Sandtown community on a personal basis. They seem excited to work with us, and we are excited to work with them."