Spotlight on Philanthropy

Join the UMB Community Engagement Center’s Sustainers Society and Open the Doors for Lasting Change

Late in the fall of 2021, the newly renovated University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Community Engagement Center (CEC) celebrated its grand opening with a gathering that included leaders from throughout the state of Maryland as well as UMB faculty, staff, and students. The keystone that will maintain the CEC’s services, events, and activities for years to come free of charge for the greater West Baltimore community and beyond is the CEC Sustainers Society — and your participation in the society is essential to keeping UMB’s vision of a better, more prosperous West Baltimore closer in sight than it has been for many years.

UMB President Bruce Jarrell (second from left) joined with staff, faculty, students, and other guests to celebrate the grand opening of the new Community Engagement Center in late October 2021. Photo by Matthew D’Agostino

“The nice thing about the recurring giving for members of the Sustainers Society is that it helps us guarantee this funding for years to come,” said Lisa Vuolo, executive director of annual and leadership giving in UMB’s Office of Philanthropy. “When you think about the popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we all engage in small monthly contributions without realizing and just ‘set it and forget it.’ What we’re hoping to do through the CEC Sustainers Society is promote these small, doable steps and connect them to transformational philanthropic giving that can really make a lasting difference and sustain program planning in the process.”

The new CEC is the cornerstone of UMB’s Community Campus, a location and concept that demonstrate a deep commitment to strengthening West Baltimore in collaboration with the neighbors who live there. Working hand-in-hand with community leaders and neighbors, UMB has reimagined the historic building that now houses the CEC into an architecturally stunning, 20,000-square-foot venue that includes a large event space, a dance and movement studio, private consultation rooms, and a robust computer lab. The expansion and relocation of UMB’s CEC is in response to more than 45,000 recorded visits from men, women, teens, and children who have engaged with its services and programming since the original CEC opened in 2015.

“This new center is a place that our community deserves,” Ashley Valis, MSW, UMB’s executive director of community engagement and strategic initiatives and a resident of West Baltimore, said at the November grand opening. “Together, we have imagined, planned, brainstormed, and convened many residents to deliver a new center that will be a fun, educational, relaxing, respectful, and transformational space for our neighbors.”

The CEC Sustainers Society will build on the nearly seven years of programming that predates the CEC’s new location at 16 S. Poppleton St. It is a giving society open to all friends of the CEC, near and far. Building on the proven impact that small, monthly contributions can make — and how easy it is for anyone to participate, no matter their personal financial resources — the CEC Sustainers Society is focused on mobilizing everyone who would like to help provide low- and no-cost services for the greater good of Baltimore.

“This center is everything to the neighborhood,” said Charlotte McGoines, a resident of Franklin Square. “We meet friends here, we develop relationships here, and it’s just so nice. I’ve met so many friendly and nice people, and I wouldn’t do anything else but come here if I could, because it’s just that much fun and there is so much to do and experience.”

Read more about the community reactions, including remarks from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott; University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman, MD, who launched the CEC during his tenure as UMB president; and 10-year-old A’rya Myers, a West Baltimore neighbor.

Through the CEC Sustainers Society, donors are invited to make a recurring or one-time gift at the NeighborSupporterAdvocate, or Champion level. Learn more about the contribution minimum for each level and how much impact you can have by choosing your recurring donation to fund community empowerment, health and wellness, or programming. Or, if you prefer, you can give to the overall CEC Fund.

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Brandon Desiderio

Brandon Desiderio is a writer and editor in the Office of Philanthropy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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