Vet­er­ans give school a fresh coat of paint

Oth­ers join in pro­ject at Roots and Branches to com­mem­o­rate 9/11

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jonathan M. Pitts

As re­cently as 2010, Jeremy Wal­lick would have spent a fall af­ter­noon like Satur­day’s in the en­gine room of the sub­ma­rine he called home for most of his hitch in the Navy.

On Satur­day, he was in East Bal­ti­more, paint roller in hands, help­ing ap­ply a coat of pas­tel-toned or­ange to the walls of an el­e­men­tary school cafe­te­ria.

Wal­lick, 34, was work­ing as a team leader for The Mis­sion Con­tin­ues, a na­tion­wide non­profit that aims to steer the skills and the can-do spirit of military vet­er­ans to­ward vol­un­teer projects that cre­ate positive change.

The for­mer me­chanic was one of 30 vet­er­ans and ser­vice mem­bers and about 50 other vol­un­teers who teamed up to give Roots and Branches School, a K-5 char­ter in Har­lem Park, an “ex­treme makeover.”

Sched­uled to com­mem­o­rate the 16th an­niver­sary of the ter­ror at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which is Mon­day, the pro­ject helped brighten and spruce up the school in­side and out, from the con­struc­tion of a new reading room and the paint­ing of an orig­i­nal mu­ral in­doors to the re-mulching of play­grounds and the build­ing of new trash re­cep­ta­cles out front.

It was the kind of pro­ject for which Bal­ti­more City’s pub­lic schools would prob­a­bly not have been able to find the money, said Prin­ci­pal Anne Rossi.

The school’s 170 stu­dents might never meet the vol­un­teers who made the makeover hap­pen, she said, but she was sure it would make a last­ing im­pres­sion when they flooded through the doors Mon­day.

The up­grades re­in­force one of the school’s core philoso­phies, Rossi said — that a clean, sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment pro­motes learn­ing — and they’ll re­in­force the mes­sage that the chil­dren are val­ued.

“It means a lot to kids who some­times aren’t so well taken care of that some­one cares enough to come in on their own time and do th­ese kinds of things for them,” she said.

Stud­ies have shown that Har­lem Park, a neigh­bor­hood be­tween Sand­town-Winch­ester to the north and Franklin Square to the south, has one of the high­est per­cent­ages of va­cant houses in Bal­ti­more.

Two youths were killed within a few blocks of the school this sum­mer, Rossi said, but the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity is un­usu­ally tightly knit and “ex­tremely com­mit­ted” to the wel­fare of the school.

Es­tab­lished in 2011, the school bases much of its teach­ing on the Reg­gio Emilia ap­proach, which in­te­grates na­ture and the arts into preschool and pri­mary cur­ric­ula.

The Mis­sion Con­tin­ues was es­tab­lished in 2007 to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for post-9/11 vet­er­ans “to find pur­pose at home through com­mu­nity im­pact.”

It’s the first gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can vet­er­ans who all joined the ser­vice as vol­un­teers, spokes­woman Katie Kilby said, and that means it’s a pop­u­la­tion with a de­sire to serve.

It can be hard for many to tran­si­tion back into civil­ian life, she added, whether the trou­ble comes from some­thing as sim­ple as miss­ing military com­rade­ship or as com­plex as deal­ing with post-trau­matic stress.

By tap­ping skills gained in the military and di­rect­ing them to­ward com­mu­ni­ties, the or­ga­ni­za­tion aims to serve both the vet­er­ans and the com­mu­ni­ties.

Les­lie Premo, an Army vet­eran who was once based at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, helped es­tab­lish the 1st Ser­vice Pla­toon in Bal­ti­more not long after the ri­ot­ing that took place in the af­ter­math of the death of Fred­die Gray of in­juries suf­fered in po­lice cus­tody in 2015.

Twenty-six mem­bers of the Tow­son Uni­ver­sity chap­ter of the Al­pha Kappa Al­pha soror­ity also pitched in, with about a dozen cre­at­ing a mu­ral de­pict­ing the sil­hou­ette of a tree on a wall out­side the li­brary. Roots and Branches chose the im­age to re­flect the name of the school.

Tow­son se­nior Mary Lloyd said she found the im­age apt.

“When I think of a tree, I think of be­ing free, of be­ing one with the world,” she said. “I think it shows it’s pos­si­ble to grow, no mat­ter what en­vi­ron­ment you’re in.”

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