A perfect happenstance. Or, at least that’s what Eri Whitney Young, a Sandtown resident, is calling the progress so far of a group trying to get a recreation center reopened and to address other long-standing issues in the neighborhood.

Showdown for Sandtown, a collection of 18 or so organizations, has entered into an agreement with the Parks and People Foundation, which will act as its fiscal agent. The relationship should lend Showdown for Sandtown status to qualify for more funding opportunities. The group also wants to become a community development corporation.

“Of course it will expand our ability to have a greater impact on the community as a whole not only currently but for the future generations to come,” Young said.

Frank Lance, president and CEO of the Parks and People Foundation, said supporting Showdown for Sandtown was the right move after listening to their goals and ideas.

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“We are willing to serve as a fiscal agent for any group that is likeminded in their mission and authentic and wanting to make a change,” Lance said, adding that the foundation has supported many organizations in its over 30 years of existence.

Lance said that far too often, organizations have great motives but do not know how to get them done. For the foundation, being a fiscal agent means sharing knowledge about different sources of funding, capacity building and networking.

Councilman James Torrence, who’s been helping Showdown for Sandtown, said the goal is to get the group sustainable and ensure “we build strong organizations within the community to do the work.”

Once Showdown for Sandtown becomes a nonprofit, they’ll be able to collect and delegate their own funding. Tracey Malone, one of the group’s organizers, said she wants to keep what’s for Sandtown in Sandtown. They also want to make sure people are more connected and there aren’t isolated efforts trying to accomplish the same things in the community.

Eri Whitney Young, left, and Tracey Malone pose for a portrait on the steps in front of the Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center.
Eri Whitney Young, left, and Tracey Malone pose for a portrait in front of the Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center — what Young describes as “the epicenter of the community” — on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Young and Malone once held events just blocks away from each other, but didn’t know one another. They’re working on organizing a monthly community meeting for neighbors to stay updated on what’s happening with their efforts.

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The Rev. Louis H. Wilson with New Song Community Church in Sandtown said he’s excited and supports the group because it’s filled with committed people who have been trying to provide activities for kids even on their own dime.

“This group wants to act as one and you normally don’t have that many entities doing different things and they want to serve our children with one message, which is to be of service to our children,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who’s lived in the neighborhood for nearly 10 years, said Sandtown needs a group that’s dedicated solely to Sandtown and includes people that live there, because some organizations parachute in and are gone the next day.

“They [Showdown for Sandtown] can build the relationships that go beyond the giveaway. Giving me something is not a relationship. That doesn’t mean I don’t need what you give me, but that doesn’t build a relationship,” Wilson said.

Young said there isn’t a specific order the group plans to tackle other concerns in the community because everything, big or small, matters. But they’re staying on top of the reopening of Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center, which has been closed for almost two years because it needs repairs. Torrence said fall is still a timeline to reopen, and Showdown for Sandtown could provide programming for kids.

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John Riggin, a communications manager with the Department of General Services, wrote in an email that it’s too early to give an exact date but they “look forward to helping the city restore recreation services to the Sandtown community.”

Nonetheless, Malone said the group is seeing more commitment from the community by way of volunteering and coming out to their events. The group held a back-to-school event earlier this month with a DJ, bounce house and resource tables.

If they can get two locations in the community, they’re planning on hosting tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Showdown for Sandtown has also been hosting pop-up game days on certain blocks where kids can play racquetball or basketball, get creative with chalk and jump rope a couple times out of the week.

Malone said the goal is to reintroduce kids to what could be in a recreation center while “creating that safe space and environment for them to be comfortable.”

Showdown for Sandtown is still circulating an online and in-person petition to show that there is interest in keeping a recreation center open and active in the community.

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“It is going to work out as planned because we have the right team behind us and we’re making the right connections,” Young said.

jasmine.vaughn@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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