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York Road Initiative wins AmeriCorps VISTA grant to support DeWees Recreation Center

| By Nick Alexopulos
DeWees Recreation Center

Loyola University Maryland's York Road Initiative has been awarded a Maryland-D.C. Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA grant to fund a yearlong position that will focus on the sustainability of the DeWees Recreation Center in the University's neighboring Govans community.

DeWees has the capacity to serve 2,000 children annually, but was slated for closure due to budgetary constraints in 2011 before Loyola and a coalition of local residents, parents, and school officials came together to work collaboratively with the Baltimore City Bureau of Recreation to strengthen operations at DeWees and ensure it remained open by increasing community ownership. The incoming VISTA member will continue that progress and work to organize, recruit, and train community residents, businesses, and other volunteers to develop the DeWees Community Recreation Council, which will support the center financially and develop programming.

The VISTA member will be hired in April and begin work in June with York Road Initiative director Erin O'Keefe, '03. The VISTA member will also work alongside Baltimore’s recreation bureau and the Friends of DeWees citizen group.

"It’s critically important to have a dedicated resource focused on building the foundation for the long-term sustainability of DeWees," said O’Keefe. "Closure of the center would create an opportunity vacuum for affordable afterschool programming and access to safe, healthy activities in the neighborhood, especially for families and children in the lowest income brackets. The efforts and coordination of our new VISTA member will both keep the doors open and enrich the overall experience DeWees offers children, echoing Loyola’s continued commitment to playing a constructive role in its surrounding communities."

Forming a council is a key recommendation of a mayor’s office task force that evaluated rec centers. In addition to forming the Community Recreation Council, the VISTA member will organize the broad community to develop stronger academic connections between students' learning at school and after school programming at DeWees; engage volunteers and other partners in recreation center programming; conduct an up-to-date needs assessment at DeWees and best practice research for recreation councils; and assist the community by gathering and disseminating information.

Loyola partnered with the Mid-Govans Community Association and Baltimore's recreation bureau to apply for the grant, worth more than $18,000 from the federal AmeriCorps VISTA program. Matching and additional funds from Loyola and the state of Maryland for insurance and training bring the position’s total value to $40,000.

About Loyola’s York Road Initiative:
The York Road Initiative aims to improve the quality of life for all persons living, working, and learning in the York Road corridor as a principal community engagement initiative of Loyola University Maryland's current strategic plan. Partnering with neighbors and others, the initiative focuses on the educational development, health, and well-being of community residents, as well as upon the economic capability of area neighborhoods, including their residential and retail establishments.

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