“Oh yeah, I loved the The Wire.”
The young sales guy at Stirling Castle in Scotland said that to me this summer when I shared that we were visiting from Baltimore. As I left the shop, I immediately thought of the Bon Secours Clean & Green program that I suspected at that moment was operating near “the corner,” mowing a lawn or installing a rain garden.
Baltimore leads the country in many ways that we’d rather not lead, and the HBO shows The Corner and The Wire brilliantly captured some of our metro’s challenges. Yet, the city is also home to many upbeat stories about cool people trying to make this quirky and interesting town better. Located literally on “the corner” near Fayette and Monroe Streets in Southwest Baltimore, the Bon Secours Clean & Green program is one of those stories.
In 1997, the same year David Simon and Ed Burns published The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation partnered with Operation ReachOut Southwest. This coalition of community leaders, churches and non-profits developed a twenty-year master plan to revitalize Southwest Baltimore. With the Bon Secours Hospital as its anchor, the plan’s goals were to improve the community’s human health, job readiness, housing options and financial literacy.
Joyce Smith, an original “Operation ReachOut” community leader, says another key task was to turn brown space into green space. Smith adds, “We had to make Southwest Baltimore more positive and less threatening. We needed to clear out the vacant lots, the boarded-up buildings and the trash piles.”
Started in 2006, the Bon Secours Clean & Green program is a workforce development program that landscapes vacant lots while supporting environmental education. Each year, eight part-time employees are hired and mentored for six months. While learning critical job skills, the team clears trash and plants trees and lawns at roughly 50-100 lots each year. The team’s success has been in choosing the right lots to transform; local neighbors recommend specific lots for landscaping and then maintain the lot after Bon Secours leaves.
Key to the program’s success are Lionel Terrell and Shakira Foster, the Clean & Green team supervisors. Born and raised in Southwest Baltimore, Lionel Terrell was looking for a way to turn his life around after some trouble with the law. Says Terrell, “This program keeps hope alive. I lived The Wire. People in my neighborhood can see that I’m sincere and I’ve made a difference in my life and if people like myself can do it, anyone can.”