Catalyst Magazine
Tyrone Roper, director of the Community Engagement Center, welcomes the crowd to the grand opening of the renovated building on South Poppleton Street. Photos by Matthew D'Agostino

Doors Open: Community Engagement Center Welcomes Neighbors with Grand Opening

Two years ago, neighbors from West Baltimore gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Community Engagement Center (CEC) at 16 S. Poppleton St. After a lengthy relocation, a full renovation, and a global pandemic, neighbors reconvened for a grand opening.

West Baltimore community members; UMB faculty, staff, and students; and leaders from across the state of Maryland gathered Oct. 28 to celebrate this highly anticipated event. The new CEC is the cornerstone of UMB’s Community Campus, a location and concept that demonstrate a deep commitment to strengthening West Baltimore in collaboration with the community members who live there.

Working hand-in-hand with community leaders and neighbors, UMB has reimagined the historic building into an architecturally stunning, 20,000-square-foot space complete with a large event space, a dance and movement studio, private consultation rooms, and a robust computer lab. The expansion and relocation of UMB’s CEC came in response to more than 45,000 recorded visits from men, women, teens, and children who have engaged with its services and programming since the original center opened in 2015.

“This new center is a place that our community deserves,” said Ashley Valis, MSW, UMB’s executive director of strategic initiatives and community engagement and a resident of West Baltimore. “Together, we have imagined, planned, brainstormed, and convened many residents to deliver a new center that will be a fun, educational, relaxing, respectful, and transformational space for our neighbors.”

Changing the Trajectory for Many

UMB leadership hosted an outdoor ceremony across from the CEC to commemorate the opening and allow attendees to experience “A Day in the Life” at the center. UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, opened the event with a quote from the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who attended the opening of the original CEC in 2015.

“I remember when [Cummings] was here to cut the first ribbon, on our first Community Engagement Center across the street there,” Jarrell said. “Some of you may remember what he said during the opening. He said, ‘We may not see the full benefit of things that we’re doing today. We never may be thanked for all we’ve done, or for what you have all done. But there will be children whose trajectory and destinies have already been changed by what you’re doing here today, and I want for this to be a model for the nation.’”

During the ceremony, attendees also heard from University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Jay A. Perman, MD, the former UMB president. It was under Perman’s leadership that the University began to work in tandem with West Baltimore neighbors to visualize and build an engagement center for the community. He thanked the neighbors for trusting UMB and for their help in making the center a reality.

“When I talk about the power of a university, engaging with its community, I talk about the center,” he said. “It’s a moral obligation of our public institutions and universities to be anchor institutions in the communities they call home. When I talk about living a mission of service and partnership and equity and opportunity, I talk about this corner of West Baltimore, and everything that we have done here together.”

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott presented Jarrell, Valis, and CEC director Tyrone Roper, MSW, with an official certificate of recognition from the city.

“It’s only right that we acknowledge the progress of this center, which was done side-by-side with our community leaders,” Scott said. “That’s a true demonstration of community engagement. We can see we have so many members of our community represented here today. This just proves that this project is not just in the community, but of the community.”

Experiencing CEC Services

Attendees were invited after the ceremony to experience the many resources, programs, and activities the CEC has to offer at tables set up during the event. This included a Wellness table to learn about the CEC health services, a Police Athletics/Activities League (PAL) program table to meet PAL police officers, a tax preparation table, a workforce development table, a CURE Scholars Program table, a virtual walk-through table, and a giveaway table where attendees could pick up informational flyers and CEC swag.

Ten-year-old A’rya Myers was excited to check out the Maker’s Studio table, which had a 3D printer and 3D pens that community members could use to make their own T-shirts and tote bags.

“I love coming here and doing fun things with my friends,” A’rya said as she added the finishing touches to her homemade T-shirt. “I asked my mom if I could be part of the Youth Maker’s Program so I can come here after school all the time and learn how to make things.”

A’rya was one of many neighbors of all ages who enjoyed the activities and games at the grand opening. The feeling of community and camaraderie was electric, and many neighbors expressed excitement for the new center to be officially open and operating.

“This center is everything to the neighborhood,” said Charlotte McGoines, a resident of the Franklin Square neighborhood. “We meet friends here, we develop relationships here, and it’s just so nice. I’ve met so many friendly and nice people, and I wouldn’t do anything else but come here if I could, because it’s just that much fun and there is so much to do and experience.”

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Jena Frick

Jena Frick is a senior media relations specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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