Today was officially spring cleaning day in Baltimore, as more than 200 community groups and 5,830 volunteers joined forces to rake away dead leaves, clean out clogged gutters, bag trash and plant community gardens.
As Cleaner-in-Chief, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake crisscrossed the city, rallying the troops and joining in the projects.
“We need some more trowels over here, we need small shovels,” she said, scrunched next to a raised garden bed in Westport, side-by-side with two members of a local Boy Scout troop, senior citizens and her daughter Sophia.
“You have to push it,” she said, helping the kids get some root-bound marigolds out of the plastic market pack and finally just banging them out.
Rawlings-Blake began the 13th Annual Mayor’s Spring Clean-up hours earlier in the Oliver community, where residents are revitalizing vacant lots as part of her administration’s Power in Dirt initiative. Then she was in Park Heights assisting with a Power in Dirt tree planting.
“It’s been very inspiring,” she said, talking to The Brew, standing in the cleared lot behind the small building on Annapolis Road that Westport residents use for community services and youth programs.
Rawlings-Blake was less forthcoming on the subject of the $250,000 promised to Westport that community leaders want to use to enlarge their small community building next to the cleared lot where the planting event took place today.
“I Don’t Know Anything About That”
For years, Linda Towe and the Westport Improvement Association had been told there was no city money to expand their building into a full-fledged community center by renovating the two empty and ramshackle adjacent structures.
(Isolated from the city by the harbor and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Westport does not have a community or youth rec center.)
But Towe and association president Ruth Sherrill found out last month that $250,000 actually had been earmarked for Westport – and that the Board of Estimates was planning to transfer the money to a Living Classrooms project in East Baltimore.
They complained to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, and the fund transfer request was withdrawn from the Board of Estimates’ agenda.
After city housing official visited Westport and said he was “not aware of any obstacles in awarding” them the $250,000 grant, community leaders were heartened.
But nearly a month has passed and the residents hadn’t heard anything from the city, so The Brew asked the status of the fund request with Rawlings-Blake.
“I don’t know anything about that,” she said today, even though she attended a board pre-meeting where the transfer was discussed and controls the spending board through her vote and the votes of two appointees.
A Vision of Peace and Community
Hopes were high today at the patch of rugged land the residents cleared between the community building and busy B-W Parkway.
“To me I saw a vision of peace and quiet here,” said Willie Mae Lumpkins, 71, an ardent gardener who has lived in Westport for 40 years and said the community plot could help bring the neighborhood back to healthier days. “We’ve got to work hard and get it back together.”
Teenagers as well as senior citizens – and a host of volunteers and city officials – went into an intense bout of raking, cultivating and mowing in advance of the mayor’s arrival.
Towe said she hopes the garden can provide not just flowers, vegetables and herbs for the community, but “a Grow Lab” for children to learn about gardening.
She sees a rehabbed and expanded community center as part of that vision.
“It would be a place for kids to go, where we could get them in off the street,” she said. “We could have the foster grandparents meet there, the senior employment, the community services program.”
Asked if Peter F. Engel, the housing official who visited the community, has responded to their questions about how to access the $250,000, Towe shook her head and said, “No, I haven’t heard anything yet.”