Welcome to City-Zen: Real Conversations with Real Baltimoreans, a question and answer series with locals sharing their thoughts on issues that are top-of-mind to many.  Whether just starting out, raising a family, struggling to get by, or at the top of your game, we all have something in common.  It’s easier to communicate once we understand the perspective of others. 

Meet Toni V., a Baltimore native who spent most of her 48 years in Baltimore and currently lives in her family home in the historic Auchentoroly Terrace neighborhood in West Baltimore.  Toni is currently disabled and spends her time raising her daughter and volunteering for a local school when she’s able.  She attended the famed Institute of Notre Dame (IND, alma mater of Nancy Pelosi) and also attended Westside Elementary, which has since closed.
What do you most like about your neighborhood?
Living across from Druid Hill Park.  It’s beautiful.  I get to see all the seasons in their splendor.  I can walk right over to the Rawlings Conservatory and view the big elephant sculptures from my window.
Photo: Marylandzoo.org – artist Barbara Thompson
What would you like to change about your neighborhood?
Get rid of the drug dealers that do business right outside of my house.  Calling the police doesn’t help, so recently I ended up going out and politely asking the young man to move, and he did!  (He also kept others from dealing in front of my house.)
Do you have any ideas to make that change happen?
Increase the police patrols and install more cameras.
What is the most common misperception about you that people have?
That I don’t want to work.
What is the most positive community action happening in your area?
Druid Hill Farmers Market because it brings fresh produce directly to my front door.  I can also get produce like Russian Red Kale that I can’t find in my grocery store.  I also think it brings people from outside the neighborhood, which is good.  Oh!  The free outdoor yoga classes, too!
Where do you go to connect with your peeps?
Facebook. Because I have a lot of friends who are not in Baltimore, Facebook is the best way to connect with them, especially the ones on the other side of the world.
What are your top three concerns about Baltimore at this time?  
Gun violence, lack of safe places for kids to go after school, and lack of safe and affordable housing.
What is your most significant personal success? 

Raising my daughter alone.

I lived in St. Louis, Missouri for six years and when I divorced my daughter’s father I came back home to Baltimore and moved in with my parents. My mother was in renal failure after years of uncontrolled diabetes and she was on dialysis three times a week. I have a culinary background so I became the person to make sure my mother followed a very strict diet. My mother was a retired teacher so she loved having her baby granddaughter home to read to and play with and love. My daughter only had five years with my mother but it was quality time. When my mother passed away my father’s health began to decline and I became his 24/7 caregiver. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be, but he took care of me my entire life so it was my turn to return the favor. During his last four years I still had to take my daughter to school, doctors appointments, playdates; in other words, still be her mom. She was really awesome in understanding that we couldn’t go out to dinner or the movies, or on vacation. I didn’t have anyone to take her for the weekend, to the movies or do fun things with her. It’s always been just me. It’s been harder since both of my parents are gone.

I’m all she has and I hope I’m doing a good job.

She was diagnosed at nine years old with a form of autism. Now she’s a teenager, so add to the teenager thing the Asperger’s thing.  As soon as I found out she had Asperger’s I tried to read everything written in English about girls with Asperger’s, and I belong to a support group on Facebook that’s only for women with Asperger’s or who love someone with Asperger’s. It is a wonderful group of women from all over the world who have helped me understand my kiddo.

 What is your biggest personal challenge/difficulty at this time?
I lost my house to foreclosure last month because my father passed away leaving me the house, which was beyond  and I can’t pay the mortgage.  I’ve applied for disability because of a variety of health issues that leave me fatigued and in pain to the point I can’t function, in addition to other medical issues I’m being treated for.  I’m still waiting to hear whether I’ve been approved.  I have temporary housing while I have been looking for something permanent for a while now, but haven’t been able to find anything that’s in a safe neighborhood.  The apartments or houses that offer income based housing have a 2 – 5 year waiting list and they are not in good neighborhoods.  You can only get emergency housing if you’re in a shelter – which isn’t safe for my daughter.  The process is maddening, and despite consultations with different agencies, I can’t find a way around it.  My husband passed away leaving little, then I had to care for my parents who were ill.  When all was said and done, I am left not knowing what to do or where the next day will lead me.  The only thing constant right now is my daughter.

Chris is the Account Manager for Baltimore Fishbowl. With 30+ years of experience in media, a background in journalism and a career in advertising and marketing, Chris has spent the past 5+ years dedicated...