Justin Glod was making unwise choices that landed him in some trouble.
Then Glod, 15, was introduced to the Re-Engagement Center at Baltimore City Public Schools’ headquarters on North Avenue. For more than five years, the center has helped young people under age 21, including those returning from incarceration, reconnect with school.
Working with the center, Glod got back into school at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, and was able to work on life skills.
He was also incentivized in another way: with new pairs of shoes.
The Re-Engagement Center recently partnered with popular retailer DTLR to open a storefront where students can get shoes, apparel and school supplies for free. The hope is that the storefront — which organizers call the Re-Engagement Center Resource Space Powered by DTLR — and The Movement Team, a nonprofit, will help meet the center’s overall goal to eliminate barriers that get in the way of school attendance. Having new school uniforms and shoes is one less thing a student has to worry about so they can focus on their studies.
Glod was able to get two pairs of shoes. One he got for placing first in a business plan competition. The other he got for showing up at the Re-Engagement Center when he needed to and improving his grades.
“I appreciated it and was thankful to have somebody look out for me,” he said.
Rinata Tanks, a coordinator for the Re-Engagement Center and alternative option program support, said students grapple with situations such as homelessness, illnesses, returning from the Department of Juvenile Services and food insecurities. All of these can lead to poor school attendance.
From July to December of last year, she said, the Re-Engagement Center helped about 700 youths with their educational and other needs. She’s excited for the new community storefront, which opened in September, that she thinks is an asset to the center and the work they do.
“It’s all done from the heart. It’s all about the students and the families,” Tanks said.
The idea of the free storefront space is the brainchild of a few people.
Akil Trice, founder of the nonprofit The Movement Team, and Tremayne Lipscomb Sr., a community outreach director with DTLR, helped bring this vision to life. Trice’s nonprofit partners with the Re-Engagement Center to mentor students, conduct house visits and help students find different employment opportunities. Trice said he’d get requests from the center’s executive director, Roger Shaw, about students who did not have clothes or shoes during their transition back into school.
Trice would either buy the shoes himself or tap Lipscomb, who he met at a homeless veterans event a decade ago. Lipscomb would get shoes from DTLR stock to give to kids.
The bright lights in the community storefront showcase a genial, classroom aesthetic. Lipscomb’s wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decorated it. One of the bulletin boards displayed there reads “Take What You Need” in English and Spanish, and it has laminated slips of paper with inspirational messages categorized in different sections. Hope, faith, humility, kindness and confidence, they read. Trice said it’s a “feel-good” space, and pointed to communal chairs and a table in the middle of the room.
Lipscomb said there’s a deliberate significance to putting the community storefront inside the Re-Engagement Center.
“This [the Re-Engagement Center] is a critical point for the youth,” Lipscomb said. “We know the need is massive here, so it was important to put this space here knowing it would be used.”
The community storefront isn’t a free-for-all, though. Students are assessed during the Re-Engagement Center’s intake process, and if their needs align with what’s available in the storefront, they’re welcome to head over and get what they need.
Students are greeted by the small towers of shoe boxes on black racks, and tan, white and navy pants and shirts for uniforms. There are also backpacks and a cubby with other school supplies such as pencils and paper. Lipscomb and Trice said the Air Force 1s, and brands such as New Balance and Reebok, are the most popular, probably because these brands have been popular in Baltimore for years. DTLR makes sure the space stays stocked with shoes.
“You’d be surprised what a pair of tennis can do for a child. … That’s why we opened this store because it means a lot to these kids and it says ‘I see you’,” Trice said.
Trice can relate to a lot of the kids the center encounters because he knows what it feels like to grow up wanting things. As early as 12 years old, he cleaned basements and eventually got a work permit to help his mother pay bills. Her health wasn’t the best, he said, and his dad was serving a decade in prison. It’s one reason he is adamant about being a mentor to kids who “are going through so much” and “missing a lot of love.”
Cynthia Johnson, Glod’s grandmother, said the young man seems to listen more to those involved with the Re-Engagement Center. She likes that “they’re always there to give him that drive.”
Glod said it’s not just about the material items he received from the community storefront — he continues to see an improvement in most of his grades. His favorite subject is chemistry, and he wants to graduate high school and become a real estate agent. For now, he’s appreciative of the support system he has at the center — in addition to his family — to follow his dreams.
“They’re always there when I need them and people are there to talk to me and go up to the school to check on me,” he said.