I remember how hard it was in T6B’s early years trying to communicate our mission to others. Veterans doing community service? Not quite. Veterans leading community service? Kind of. Veterans and civilians cleaning up trash and planting trees? Yes, but there’s so much more. Creating playgrounds in East Baltimore? Yeah, but what about the farm, and the orchard, the murals, and the work we do in the elementary schools? Operation Oliver, right? Well, sure. But we also work in Johnston Square and Darley Park now.
You can see why T6B has always struggled internally with how to quickly and accurately describe to people what exactly it is that we do. The nature of our operation in the first few years was dynamic, evolving, and opportunistic. We had to take advantage of the resources we had available, rather than corner ourselves into a predetermined scope of service. Slowly at first, and increasingly more rapid in the past two years, we have narrowed the scope of our mission and honed in on our goals. The dust from the first five years has settled and our foundation is sturdy. Our community service approach has not suddenly changed, but as we roll into 2016 we have clarified how we describe it.
We call it Neighborscape – the systematic elimination of vacant lots in East Baltimore. More specifically, the process of identifying vacant, unmanaged plots of land in East Baltimore, transforming them into community assets, and investing in the long term upkeep of those properties. This is what we do, and what we’ve been doing. Of course this is done within the context of our mission – to utilize the leadership and skills of veterans to execute aggressive community service initiatives – and within the context of a veteran-civilian partnership of service, hence “The 6th Branch.” It’s that simple, and the problem that Neighborscape addresses couldn’t be better described than how it was put by our director, Dave Landymore.
“The majority of Baltimore City’s vacant lots are found on former residential property and are generally the result of the city’s inability to reassign land-use where they have razed properties. The individual lots belong either to the city or private citizens, but when they occur in large contiguous areas and are left unmanaged, the resulting overgrowth reflects poorly on the communities in which they occur. These ‘vacant lots,” are so named because they have been left void of identity after being torn down, and the resulting neglect reflects the struggle of their host communities.”
Every time we see a lot covered in debris, garbage, and overgrowth, we see a playground or a garden. We see kids on tire swings and neighbors harvesting peppers, pears, and arugula. We see opportunity in places that everyone else has written off. The number of vacant lots in East Baltimore remains mind-blowing. The impact we can make transforming these lots is unlimited and restricted only by finances and manpower. The more volunteers, the more lots we can manage.
So we turn to you once again in 2016 and ask, how much are you willing to give? How much energy are you willing invest in reenergizing Baltimore? Do you want to drive around East Baltimore because it’s somebody else’s problem or do you want shake hands with your neighbors and collaborate on a better tomorrow? Shall we point fingers and place blame on those in public office, or should we grasp those fingers around a shovel and be part of the solution? We need your commitment again, and there’s no better time to start than on our 5th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Yes, I said 5th. Time flies.
We’ve got a shovel with your name on it. Come grab it.