Engaging New Communities in Baltimore

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium 

On a beautifully bright Sunday afternoon, 241 volunteers from two faith-based congregations in South Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood, joined in fellowship and stewardship as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Latino congregation, Templo de Alabanza y Restauración (TAYR) led the charge in collaboration with community partner, Pathway Church of God, for a joint, bilingual worship service that culminated in:

-        The removal of 500 lbs. of trash from neighborhood streets,

-        The painting of two storm drains, and

-        Maintenance of a 604 square foot native garden planted by both congregations in previous years.

This marked the first of 4 debris cleanups within the Masonville Cove watershed that TAYR will lead as a part of the Patapsco Latino Action Network (PLAN) project. Currently funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants program, this National Aquarium project looks to inclusively address the problem of marine debris in the watershed by engaging Latino volunteers and community members in hands-on marine debris cleanup events, facilitating community-led comprehensive strategies to address debris problems, and building the capacity for Latino community members to develop leadership skills focused on the long-term reduction of marine debris.

The National Aquarium’s connection to the Masonville Cove watershed stems from its involvement in the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership, one of the first in the nation as designated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. What once thrived as a beloved community natural area in the 1940s, became a neglected area of shoreline overrun with invasive species and debris. The Maryland Port Administration, in partnership with Living Classrooms Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Aquarium have worked collaboratively to design an area that would initiate meaningful stewardship opportunities for neighborhood families and engaging programming to connect those individuals to the natural world within their own backyard.

 Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

Photo courtesy of National Aquarium

The Aquarium led efforts to engage community stakeholders, including residents, local environmental non-profit organizations and city officials, creating opportunities for people to identify and address key environmental issues or interests. These interests include issues such as debris accumulation and community greening, within the surrounding communities of the site. This Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP), which was an initial product of these community engagement efforts, has served as a critical guiding piece as part of our community engagement efforts.

The Aquarium recognized that in order for these efforts to be successful, they had to be viewed through a diversity, equity, inclusion and justice lens. One critical priority of this overall effort was the need for outreach, engagement and programming for Latino families in the community, which represented a growing demographic within South Baltimore. According to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, from 2000 to 2012, the Hispanic population grew by almost 125 percent throughout the state and by 150 percent just in Baltimore City.

The Aquarium, through the implementation of a community pillar approach, has been purposeful in engaging Latino families within the community. From the onset, TAYR not only expressed their desire to become involved in community stewardship projects, but also connect and engage with other local Latino families, building this larger network. Thus, through the PLAN project, the Aquarium looks to not only support, but build the capacity of TAYR to develop these transformational relationships with other local Latino groups and families. The ultimate outcome of this “train-the trainer” methodology, is the empowerment of the congregation to lead community stewardship initiatives.

This year the Masonville Cove Urban Refuge Partnership in collaboration with TAYR and HAF, hosted its 2nd ever Latino Conservation Week event! Inclusivity was the uniting theme of this programmatic effort, from the planning onset we knew that TAYR was not available during this actual week, but that didn’t stop us. Driven by a collective desire to celebrate Latino culture and engagement, we planned accordingly to host an event on Sunday June 24th, during which over 80 TAYR congregants had opportunities to participate in guided nature walks, creature features, fishing and safe archery programs, as well as design t-shirts.

Blog written by Curtis Bennett and Andrea Van Wyk, formatted and edited by intern Mary Katherine Sullivan.