Community Partner of the Month | Marian House

We’re proud to recognize Marian House, as the Community Partner of the Month. Read on to learn more about The Marian House, and their experience as an MVLS Community Partner.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  
Marian House was founded in 1982 by the Sisters of Mercy, School Sisters of Notre Dame, and lay women who noticed that it was difficult, if not impossible, for many of the women being released from incarceration to rebuild their lives, as housing, employment, and support were scarce.

Marian House is a holistic, healing community for women and their children who are in need of supportive housing and rehabilitative services. We provide a safe, sober, and loving environment that challenges women to respect and love themselves and others, confront emotional and socioeconomic barriers, and transition to stable and independent lives.

What/who/how do you serve your community?
For nearly 42 years, Marian House has expanded its programs, providing both transitional and permanent supportive housing and rehabilitative services to women and their children experiencing homelessness, who are in a period of crisis, who may suffer from trauma, mental health disorders, substance use disorders, physical and sexual abuse, and/or re-entering the community from incarceration and other unstable life situations.

Why do you think it is important to work with a legal services program, like MVLS?
Marian House serves women with complex histories of trauma who have historically been underserved. All the women who enter Marian House were previously homeless, unemployed, and living in poverty. Most women had previously been incarcerated, been at an in-patient drug/alcohol rehabilitation center, or living at a shelter or another unstable environment. Of these women, most are women of color, directly impacted by systemic and institutionalized racism daily.

MVLS is a no-cost, essential resource for women who cannot afford civil legal help. MVLS assists the women of Marian House with their legal challenges that range from family law, criminal record relief, income tax controversy, and numerous consumer issues. Through our partnership with we will continue to help rebuild the lives or our residents and community members through advocacy.

Is there anything upcoming you would like to highlight or promote?
On a bi-monthly basis, Marian House hosts a Virtual Tour in which you can meet our team, learn about the work we do, and get an inside glimpse of Marian House headquarters, located at 949 Gorsuch Ave. Our next virtual tour is on Thursday, April 11th, 2024, at 4PM. Please reach out to us at 410-467-4121 for an in-person tour, or if you have any questions!

Marian House’s BLINGO! is finally back for its 3rd year. On Friday, May 10th, 2024, come play 10 games of bingo to win cash, gift cards and jewelry. Location is TBD—please follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check back at marianhouse.org/blingo for the latest information.

Marian House will host our 16th Annual Race to Embrace Independence 5K Run and Walk on Saturday, September 28th, 2024. The race directly supports Marian House’s mission and remains our most important annual fundraiser. We will have both virtual and in-person options. More information can be found at marianhouse.org/event/5k.

Community Partner of the Month | The Center for Urban Families (CFUF)

We’re proud to recognize The Center for Urban Families (CFUF), as the Community Partner of the Month. Read on to learn more about CFUF and their experience as an MVLS Community Partner.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  
The Center for Urban Families is excited to be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year! Our mission is to strengthen urban communities by helping fathers and families achieve stability and economic success. Since 1999, CFUF has served more than 32,000 low-income and disadvantaged residents in Baltimore City’s hardest-to-reach neighborhoods with comprehensive economic and family stability services.

To achieve our mission, we provide workforce development and job training, fatherhood training, and 2Gen family programming for individuals and families, many of whom are on probation or parole or otherwise have criminal records. A criminal record has significant detrimental effects on so many parts of our members’ lives – did you know a past criminal conviction of any sort reduces job offers by half? Barriers to stable and quality employment also become barriers to safe, stable housing, future education prospects, and so much more.

Why do you think it’s important to work with a legal services program, like MVLS? 
Working with legal services programs like MVLS are vital to removing this kind of barrier and supporting Baltimore residents in building strong futures.

Is there anything upcoming you would like to highlight or promote?
One of our core programs is STRIVE Baltimore, a three-week work readiness program – our next cycle begins Friday, February 23rd! You can find out more about the program and register by calling 410-367-5691.

Community Partner of the Month | SPARC (Sex workers Promoting Action, Risk reduction, and Community mobilization)

We’re proud to recognize SPARC (Sex workers Promoting Action, Risk reduction, and Community mobilization), as the Community Partner of the Month. Read on to learn more about SPARC and their experience as an MVLS Community Partner.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  
SPARC was founded in 2017 to increase community access to judgement-free, low-barrier, free harm reduction services tailored to the specific needs of women, nonbinary folks, and non-men who use drugs and sell sex in Southwest Baltimore, MD.

What/who/how do you serve your community?   
We offer various harm reduction, healthcare, and support services at our Center in Pigtown (908 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, MD). We are open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 4 pm. To provide low-barrier services to people who use drugs and/or engage in sex work in mind, all these services are available at no cost, with no insurance and no ID required. At the Center, we welcome participants to pick up supplies, connect with our staff for services, peruse our clothing rack, drop off laundry, or make a cup of coffee.

Initially, most SPARC services were offered at our full-service drop-in Center. In early 2020, however, we began expanding our outreach program in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic – beginning to provide mobile or “door” delivery-based harm reduction services, where we were going out into the community and delivering supplies directly to participants. The goal was to continue to provide low-barrier, community-based harm reduction services at a time when resources, supplies, and transportation had become even more challenging to access, especially for people who use drugs and trade or sell sex.  

Since then, we’ve continued to expand and develop our mobile outreach services in response to growing community interest in these services. We now offer mobile delivery of nearly all our services to Southwest Baltimore and offer them at our Center.

Our harm reduction supplies, available at the Center for pick up or through our mobile outreach, include safer substance use supplies for people who use substances, including safer smoking, snorting, and injection. To support safety around substance use, this also includes Narcan and testing strips for both Fentanyl and xylazine, which are essential for fighting the city’s rates of fatal overdoses. As harm reduction is broader than just substance use, we also offer safer sex kits, wound care supply kits, and hygiene bags to all of our participants at the Center and through our mobile services.

We also have an incredible care team that offers more robust medical and social services at our Center and, increasingly, through mobile outreach. Our healthcare team provides a range of preventative care, such as vaccinations and wound care, as well as reproductive health options, such as STI and HIV testing and treatment, birth control, pregnancy testing, and HIV prevention. We also offer a mobile medical program to get treatment services, in the form of buprenorphine, out to our participants. Our social services team provides case management, counseling, and referrals to many of our service provider partners in the city. 

But regardless of where we meet, we are invested in creating a safe and welcoming connection for our participants.

Why do you think it’s important to work with a legal services program, like MVLS? 
Community support and partnerships have been key to SPARC’s growth and continued ability to offer a wide range of low-barrier, free services to participants.  Organizations providing free legal services such as MVLS have been instrumental in helping community members that we work with to navigate complex civil legal issues-such as criminal record relief, landlord/tenant issues, and custody issues-which can often pose as barriers to accessing employment, housing, education, and social services like benefits.

Is there anything upcoming you would like to highlight or promote?
If you are anyone you know is interested in learning more about SPARC or our services, please contact us at (410) 624-7554.  If you are interested in learning more about our mobile delivery-based services in Southwest Baltimore, please reach out to us at (602) 935-7554.

Community Partner of the Month – Betsy D. Simon Founder, BDS Healthy Aging Networks, Inc

Congratulations to our December Community Partner of the month, Betsy D. Simon Founder, BDS Healthy Aging Networks, Inc! We are so grateful for your partnership and commitment to removing barriers, and building capacity amongst older adults in Baltimore City, and beyond. Learn how this partnership came about, and why Betsy is so dedicated to this work in an interview below!

Community Partner of the Month | Bon Secours Community Works

We’re proud to recognize Bon Secours Community Works (BSCW), as the Community Partner of the Month. Read on to learn more about BSCW and their experience as an MVLS Community Partner.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  
Bon Secours Community Works (BSCW) works to enrich West Baltimore communities with programs, services, and affordable housing that contribute to the long-term economic and social viability of neighborhoods.

What/who/how do you serve your community?   
We organize our efforts into three primary service delivery departments: Economic Development, Youth & Family Services, and Housing & Community Development.

The Economic Development department provides programs and services designed to increase the economic viability of West Baltimore residents and communities. We offer support for job seekers including occupational training and job placement services, financial education and low-cost tax preparations, access to healthy foods, neighborhood revitalization projects, and support for citizens returning home after incarceration.

The Youth and Family Services department offers resources and services designed to assist West Baltimore residents in building strong foundations for the future. Our programs target expectant mothers, children and their families, youth and young adults, and women in need of basic services.

Bon Secours Community Works currently owns and operates over 800 units of high-quality affordable housing within 8 developments, supporting families, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Our facilities are conveniently located to critical amenities including transportation, shopping, recreation and health services and residents benefit from the support of property managers as well as Resident Service Coordinators.

Why do you think it’s important to work with a legal services program, like MVLS? 
Expungement services provided by MVLS play a pivotal role in the reintegration and rehabilitation of many of our community members, providing them with a crucial second chance to rebuild their lives after serving their sentences. These services are essential because they help remove the stigma and legal barriers associated with a criminal record, which can otherwise hinder individuals from securing employment, housing, education, and even access to social benefits. By expunging or sealing certain past convictions, our clients can regain their self-esteem and become productive members of society, reducing the risk of recidivism. Expungement services not only promote fairness and justice but also contribute to the overall well-being of communities by reducing the cycle of crime and poverty, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. 

How Can I Be of Service? – A Profile of Community Partnership in East Baltimore

In 2022 alone, MVLS has handed out more than 600 bags to neighbors in the Greenmount West, Barclay, and Midway neighborhoods of East Baltimore. That equates to 4,200 fliers and factsheets with information that ultimately connects residents to free legal help like the kind we provide. We couldn’t have that kind of impact alone.

“Receiving the bag was like Christmas coming to her door.”

It’s the efforts of community partners like the ones being honored at this year’s Celebrate Pro Bono awards ceremony – the Greenmount West Community Association, Greater Greenmount Community Association, and Jubilee Baltimore – that make it possible.

Watch the video to hear directly from community partners about their work to support their neighbors through an incredible resource-distribution campaign.

Lauren Kelly-Washington, President of the Greenmount West Community Association and Community Engagement Specialist at Jubilee Baltimore, spoke to us about her work with MVLS. MVLS undertook an effort to stuff bags with fliers and factsheets, including about accessing the Water4All Discount, applying for the Homeowner’s Assistance Fund, and getting connected to free legal help to prepare deeds, expunge criminal records, and navigate tangled titles. Then, Kelly-Washington worked with her community association’s resident ambassadors to knock on doors and deliver these resources throughout the neighborhood.

Kelly-Washington shared that her neighbors were grateful for the outreach, “There was a resident who said that receiving the bag was like Christmas coming to her door.”

The community association members also worked to identify neighbors who were on the 2022 tax sale list. Block captain Nancy Kinlin remembers “There were plenty of neighbors on the list. Homeowners living in their primary residence…affected by tax bills to the point where they could be potentially evicted from their homes.”

“No one wants to lose good neighbors over something as easy to remedy as a tax sale bill,” emphasized Kelly-Washington.

In addition to the resource distribution effort, MVLS volunteers are working with homeowners from the Greenmount West neighborhood on legal issues central to them keeping their homes, including tangled titles, estate planning, and applications to the City’s various homeowner incentives.

“It’s really this opportunity to say: how can I be of service? And that’s exactly what MVLS is doing. They provide a service where they are committed to helping our residents who have been here a long time,” explained Kinlin.

Melvin Jadulang, of the Greater Greenmount West Community Association, helped coordinate similar work in the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods and will join Kelly-Washington in accepting a 2022 Community Partner Award this fall.

“Our volunteers work tirelessly to advocate and connect our neighbors to resources that enable us to have a vibrant and connected community,” explained Jadulang. “Getting the word out isn’t easy and partnering with MVLS has helped us support a better quality of life for our neighbors.”

Community associations like Jadulang’s, Kelly-Washington’s and Kinlin’s are crucial to raise awareness about the kinds of issues that can be resolved with free legal help, and their relationships with their neighbors help MVLS establish a baseline of trust with incoming clients. That’s not always easy, given that the legal system has caused grave injustice in these same people in the past.

But free legal help also has the potential to empower communities, something that is central to why Kelly-Washington and Jadulang see partnership with MVLS as worthwhile. Both cite pro bono legal representation, estate planning, outreach, and advocacy as crucial services that contribute to the fabric of neighborhood stability.

Susan Francis, Executive Director of MVLS, discussed why community partnerships are central to the mission of MVLS:

“Working with Jubilee, working with Greater Greenmount Community Association, working with Greenmount West Community Association, really enabled this opportunity for MVLS to get into targeted communities. She concluded, “We are so grateful to Lauren, Nancy, Melvin, and all of our incredible partners for helping us get legal help to the people who need it most.”

Community Partner Spotlight: Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation

Each month we recognize one of our community partners who displays the values that we expect of ourselves and seek in our partnerships.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  

The Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation has been in existence over 71 years. Our Mission is to save youth in underserved communities while reducing juvenile delinquency, neighborhood destabilization and combating racism. 

Gregory Wilkes – Executive Director

Get the full story, and learn more about the Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation on our Community Partner Page!