ayla Wyche is an endearing eighth-grader at Green Street Academy, a self-described “cheerful seed” who brightens the lives of those around her. For more than two years she has benefited from being in UMB’s CURE Scholars Program, a groundbreaking year-round pipeline program that prepares sixth- to 12th-grade students in West Baltimore for competitive and rewarding research, STEM, and health care career opportunities.
More than 250 mentors — students, faculty, staff, and friends of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)— work with the scholars each week on science projects, homework help, and enrichment activities.
“I love it! I love the mentors and the program,” Kayla says. “CURE is like another family I can go to with problems. It’s a second family for me. A second home to enjoy.”
Families step up in times of need. So when Kayla wanted to go on a tour of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the South during spring break and her parents couldn’t afford it, she turned to her second family. Her CURE mentor, 20-year UMB security officer Evelyn Greenhill, stepped forward, not only graciously sponsoring Kayla for the $850 trip but giving her spending money as well.
Why would Greenhill, who also mentors other CURE Scholars, extend herself in that way? “When I see that they need, that’s what I do,” says Greenhill, who, when she noticed the scholars didn’t have warm-enough clothes in the wintertime, bought hoodies, long johns, hats, and gloves. “I’m blessed. I truly am. I’m not doing this on my own, I’m doing it through Christ. He’s making it possible. He blesses me, so he wants me to be a blessing to others.”
Not that “Miss Evelyn,” as the scholars call her, hasn’t experienced hard times herself. Last New Year’s Eve, her grandson, Corey, a 17-year-old football star at Dunbar High with high SAT scores and a bright future, was killed. The week of the funeral Greenhill still reported to the front desk at the Lexington Building, wearing the same smile and upbeat attitude she always brings to the job.
“I had to. When you have Christ in your life, there is hope,” she says. “Out of everything that we think is bad, God always turns it around for your own good.”
Plus Greenhill, who sometimes serves in soup kitchens and is involved in the UMB Police Department’s (UMBPD) outreach to the homeless, prides herself on public service. Those entering the Lexington Building, employees and visitors alike, deserve nothing less than “asmile when you come in the door. Welcome them,” she says. “Say good morning and how are you.”
That goes for Saturdays, too, when Greenhill works overtime so the UMB CURE Scholars can attend programs in the Lexington Building. Her reward?
The youths stop down with lunch, snacks, juice, and conversation during their breaks.
“They are my children, too,” says Greenhill, a mother of four, grandmother of three, great-grandmom of one, and wise advisor to many in the Lexington Building and the UMBPD. “I love those children, and they love me. I love people, and I love doing for people.”
For her compassionate nature on the job and outreach to the CURE Scholars, Greenhill was named UMB May Employee of the Month as well as Mentor of the Year by the scholars, which UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, mentioned in his 2019 State of the University Address.
“She’s always there for us,” says Kayla. “She’s like a second mother.”
When Greenhill arrives for the scholars’ end-of-year award ceremony in May, Kayla greets her with a warm hug and this conversation takes place.
Kayla: “You’re a strong woman.”
Greenhill: “Only because of Christ.”
Kayla: “I got a small Bible on my trip.”
Greenhill: “Do you read it every day? You have to read a little of it and pray every day.”
Kayla: “I do. I made some friends on my trip.”
Greenhill: “Remember in order to have friends, you have to show yourself friendly.”
Kayla got more than an unforgettable experience from the HBCU trip. She might have chosen a university. Asked her favorite stop on the 10-college/university trip, Kayla says “Bethune Cookman [in Daytona Beach, Fla.]. Mary Bethune’s story was so inspiring. She left her home with her kids and a dollar fifty.”
Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., also is a possibility “because I could do the three-year plan in criminal justice or in the last year go to the police academy.”
Kayla was accompanied on the trip (“my first time away in a long while”) by CURE mentor coordinator Shawdae Harrison. “Even though Kayla was one of only five seventh-graders [on the trip with many high school juniors and seniors] she always had questions, she always made friends at every college and university,” Harrison recalls. “She exceeded our expectations.”
One of 20 who nominated Greenhill for Employee of the Month, “Miss Shawdae” says the security officer’s mentoring has been invaluable. “Our kids come downstairs to the security desk to tell her about their week. She in turn gives them advice and a listening ear. They all love the time that they get to spend with her.”
“Miss Evelyn,” who donates a portion of her paycheck every two weeks to the CURE Scholars, says it’s God’s work, not hers. “I pray much for them because they’re the children of today, so I have to do what I can do. I have to do what God wants me to do.”
Her impact is indeed heavenly.
“Kayla gave me a card that said I made her dreams come true,” Greenhill says. “God brought her to me so he gets all the glory and praise. I ask God every morning, ‘Lord, what is my assignment for today?’ All the glory belongs to God!”