The empowering spirit of volunteerism of eight faculty and staff members will be celebrated at Johns Hopkins' 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, which will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, in Turner Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus.
At the event, keynote speaker Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, will address the theme "Celebrating the Power of Voices." And Unified Voices, a choir composed of local residents and Johns Hopkins employees that is celebrating its 25th anniversary, will perform.
Here's how the eight faculty and staff members being honored with this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Community Service are making a difference.
Administrative coordinator, Office of Principal Gifts, Development and Alumni Relations, Johns Hopkins University
Last year, when the Johns Hopkins Black Faculty and Staff Association was looking for a project it could undertake to help curb violence in Baltimore City, Jerrell Bratcher stepped up to help find a solution.
"I enjoy informing, educating, and empowering youth about how to interact with peers, police, and other authority figures such as teachers, principals, and adults," says Bratcher, who works in Johns Hopkins Development and Alumni Relations as an administrative coordinator for the Office of Principal Gifts.
Insisting that the program be long-term and impactful, Bratcher researched various organizations that were tackling youth violence prevention, talked to dozens of faith-based and community leaders, and called on his 10 years of leadership experience with charter schools, community schools, and K-12 public education. In summer 2017, he launched the Baltimore Youth De-Escalation and Juvenile Justice Initiative, a volunteer project that brings youth, police officers, and others together in an effort to forge positive relationships and interactions. Bratcher has partnered with Strategies for Youth, a national nonprofit policy and training organization dedicated to improving police/youth interactions.
Bratcher facilitates the discussions and role-playing sessions, and also provides strategies for conflict de-escalation, as well as character and leadership development. He uses an interactive Juvenile Justice Jeopardy gamelike tool to help people understand the law and how the juvenile justice system works.
Bratcher conducts the presentations in various settings, such as schools, community centers, and even detention centers.
To date, more than 300 youths and 200 adults have participated in the program, and he's trained more than 60 facilitators to lead the workshop presentations. Humanim, a nonprofit human services organization, has begun to use these tools in its programs as well.
The initiative has caught the attention of government agencies, judges, and nonprofits around the country. With the backing of the university, through a Diversity Innovation Grant from the Diversity Leadership Council and supported by the Office of Government and Community Affairs, Bratcher is looking to expand the program to other jurisdictions; train more Johns Hopkins faculty, staff, and students; and cultivate more youth leaders from the community
Care manager and clinical team lead, Care Management, Johns Hopkins Healthcare
Caróle Campbell works as a care manager with Johns Hopkins Healthcare, coordinating medical care and community resources for individuals with complex care needs. A Gulf War–era and disabled American veteran, she serves as a subject matter expert for Johns Hopkins Uniformed Services Family Health Plan. Campbell also relies on her 10 years of active and reserve military duty in the Army Nurse Corps to serve as an advocate for military veterans and their family members.
Outside work, Campbell makes it her mission to educate veterans she meets at her church, health fairs, and various workshops about their potential eligibility for Veterans Affairs benefits. She assists veterans with special needs and circumstances, such as those who are seniors, homeless, or suffering with PTSD or other medical conditions, as well as providing information to spouses and caregivers.
Helping men and women who are recovering from domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and even those who are the abusers, is another cause important to Campbell. A survivor herself, she talks to inmates at the Howard County Detention Center, and shares information and resources at her church and with the Youth Development Coalition of Howard County Dialogue Series, which focuses on topics for teenagers such as stalking and bullying. Campbell is also a board member of the Howard County Coalition to Prevent Intimate Partner Violence.
"What I've been through could have torn the fabric of who I am," says Campbell, the mother of an adult son. "Whatever I've gone through is never for me. It's for someone else. I've learned and I've grown so I can help someone else."
She says she is grateful that her efforts have resulted in tangible outcomes: At least one disenfranchised veteran is now receiving full disability benefits, and a teenager in her church who was being stalked received resources and intervention.
Assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology, School of Medicine
Lois Eldred says that her community service is inspired by the patients she sees as a physician assistant in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's John G. Bartlett Specialty Practice. Most have HIV, live in Baltimore City, and are socially and economically disadvantaged.
"I watch how many of them overcome incredible odds to take care of themselves, take medication, and remain substance abuse–free," says Eldred, who also works with the Centers for AIDS Research. "It's a huge challenge for them."
Acknowledging that she has enjoyed "tremendous opportunity," Eldred is always looking to help improve community members' quality of life. On many Saturday mornings, she helps the Samaritan Community crisis center provide food to people and families in need. Earlier this year, she worked with two churches and a coalition to organize a city neighborhood cleanup and Take Back the Park Day after a series of violent events threatened a playground.
Since 2015, Eldred has chaired the Criminal Justice Committee at Memorial Episcopal Church in West Baltimore, advocating for issues such as bail reform, prison reform, and support for returning citizens. She has testified for bail reform in front of the Maryland Court of Appeals and worked with Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform to advocate for state legislative reform.
"I see that the issue of bail and posting bond for bail disproportionately affects people of color and people who are poor. It's very destabilizing for families and for communities when, for example, the breadwinner is unable to post bond and goes to jail," Eldred says. "There are inherent injustices with that, and I can see what impact that has on people."
Quality specialist, Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Department, Sibley Memorial Hospital
The founding of Tatia Gilstrap's nonprofit, Mind Expansion Community Services, or MECS, was inspired by a frightening incident involving her then 12-year-old son. He experienced a seizure in his middle school classroom and fell unconscious, and teachers and students thought he had died.
The incident made it clear to Gilstrap that information and awareness were needed for people whose medical conditions were not apparent. MECS helps students and their family members bridge social gaps between "differently abled and typical individuals," she says, through talks in schools, social coaching, community service, medical awareness, and consultations. The organization also educates people about how to respond to medical emergencies involving people with hidden disabilities.
"With most of the people who we serve, you're unable to tell that they have a hidden disability," she says.
And individuals with conditions such as autism, Asperger's syndrome, epilepsy, diabetes, and ADD/ADHD are subject to social tension such as teasing, bullying, and peer rejection," says Gilstrap, a registered nurse who works as a quality specialist at Sibley Memorial Hospital. "We create a safe space where these individuals can learn and grow from each other and build self-esteem."
One example of her volunteer work is the prom experience she arranged for a high school senior who manages an autism spectrum disorder. She coached the student and date (who also has a disability) on social etiquette, appropriate conversation, and what to wear.
A component of the organization, called Hidden Inspirations Project (HIP) Kids, Youth & Young Adults, is facilitating a student support group that sponsors monthly social meetups, and awareness meetings held at a local parks and recreation center for two hours on Sundays.
In the past, grant funding allowed the organization to provide scholarships, which helped people with hidden disabilities attend college and trade schools. Currently, it is raising funds for operational costs, scholarships, and group skills outings.
Administrative coordinator, Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy Department, Johns Hopkins Hospital
As staff administrator of the Johns Hopkins Department of Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy, Linda Johnson-Harvey provides administrative organization for the chaplains and other staff members, but some of her most impactful work is not limited to Johns Hopkins.
Johnson-Harvey has a special place in her heart for struggling Baltimore families. She has volunteered in numerous ways for more than a decade to help them, including providing resources for troubled communities and organizing vigils for families who have lost loved ones.
Through her volunteering, Johnson-Harvey grew to know Baltimore City's problems intimately. "I breathe it," she says. She established many programs to help provide assistance.
She created the Voice of the Village program five years ago in order to help individuals located in East and West Baltimore City food deserts. Voice of the Village gives groceries and supplies to families during the middle of each month to ensure they have enough to make it to their next paycheck. Supplying healthy and nutritious options is of great importance, Johnson-Harvey says, because of their limited access to fresh food.
Another of her altruistic projects, started in 2013, is the Heart Talk–Real Talk support group. Based in Pikesville, the group meets monthly to support sexual trauma and domestic violence survivors through education, prevention, and resources.
"As a survivor, I'm passionate about letting people know there's life after abuse," Johnson-Harvey says. "I want to help men and women and let them know that they have the power to share their stories and change their narrative—from a victim to victorious."
While her personal experience and faith pushed Johnson-Harvey to provide support, the people she has helped and become close with drive her to make each program as successful as possible, she says.
Physician, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians
Physician Kelly Koay relocated from Nashville, Tennessee, in 2017 to join Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, and it didn't take her long to become involved in the East Baltimore community.
Shortly after her move to Baltimore, Koay noticed some of the challenges that the city's residents experience. "I had more of an introduction to the types of racial and socio-economic inequalities that exist in parts of the city that separate us as a community," Koay says. "I wanted to empower individuals and neighborhoods so they can see themselves as powerful agents of change."
Koay helped develop free weekend classes for children, focusing on teaching virtues such as kindness, humility, love, and equality. She holds the classes in East Baltimore and welcomes any children interested in such lessons.
The classes are based on Koay's practice of the Baha'i faith, which is grounded in the elimination of all prejudice in order to promote self-improvement and contribute to the advancement of society. She feels this is a vital and relevant lesson for Baltimore City, which is why she seeks children of all backgrounds to help them find common ground.
While children tend to be more open to learning these virtues, she insists that no one is too old to begin empowering themselves.
As the classes grow, Koay says she looks forward to collaborating and learning from volunteers and children alike as she continues to enable Baltimore families with her vision for a tightly knit community.
Assistant professor of medicine, School of Medicine
Karen Schneider took her first medical mission trip, in 1994, as a curious fourth-year medical student from State University of New York. Her destination was Guyana, South America, where a malaria epidemic had left hundreds ill, and a few had already died. Schneider estimates that because she could insert an IV and handle food boluses, she treated about 100 patients during her two weeks there.
"I realized that simple interventions in very rural areas could be lifesaving, says Schneider, now a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "It changed my life in wanting to reach out to people who were very rural and who didn't have access to health care."
Each year, Schneider takes four trips to underserved areas of Haiti, Guyana, Kenya, and Nigeria. A School of Medicine faculty member since 2002, she invites the residents in the international child health class she teaches to join her on the missions. Schneider and the volunteers screen for anemia and treat intestinal worms and skin rashes.
They have performed hundreds of lifesaving surgeries over the last 15 years, and one of the highlights of Schneider's work has been successfully treating a 2-month-old who spent four days alone crushed in the rubble of an earthquake in Haiti.
The charity she founded, Mercy Medical Mission, covers the cost of the young physicians' airfare and medical supplies, thanks to more than $1.1 million in grants and donations she has raised over the years.
Schneider has been a nun since she was 21 years old and is a member of the Sisters of Mercy. She taught high school math before she entered medical school in her late 20s.
Medical office supervisor, Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
When Maurisha White was not able to find a cheerleading program for her young daughter, she worked with other parents to create one at the local community center. That was 21 years ago, and today she remains active with the organization that oversees the center, Turner Station Recreation Council.
The council, of which White is president, is located in an impoverished community and welcomes students from Baltimore City and Baltimore County. It sponsors a free after-school program that operates from 4 to 8 p.m. four days a week, providing homework assistance and other support to some 300 students each month. Meals, a summer camp, and a free clothing program are also offered at the community center. Students can participate in field trips, board games, rap sessions, and even a club called Uniquely Designed Me that White organized to help girls build their self-esteem.
For the past six years, White also has organized a Thanksgiving feast that fed nearly 300 people this year and a brunch with Santa for more than 200 children and families at Sollers Point Community Center in Turner Station.
White, who was ordained a minister last year, says that this work is her purpose. "I found that I have a gift in serving, and I feel like I am operating in my gift to serve others," she says. "Serving these young kids—building them up, encouraging them, and being there for them—is a gift to me. I get paid with hugs."
Her volunteer work also includes leadership. She is vice president of the executive board for Region 4 of Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks and serves as secretary of Turner Station Conservation Teams.
A Johns Hopkins employee since 1994, White works as the medical office supervisor for Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. In that role, she is the main point of contact for patients, from their first visit to the morning of surgery by the spine and brain surgeons she works with.
White also oversees her department's adopt-a-child program, which supports two families from Johns Hopkins' Harriet Lane Clinic on the East Baltimore campus, and serves on the Patient Family Advisory Council.
Johns Hopkins employees unable to attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration will be able to watch it online. Viewing details are posted at insidehopkins.org/mlk.
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