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Overlea-Area Nonprofit Brings 'Hope' To Youth

Boys Hope, Girls Hope of Baltimore has been operating from the second floor of Slavie Bank since 2007.

For 16 Baltimore metro scholars, an Overlea-area nonprofit represents hope.

Boys Hope, Girls Hope of Baltimore was founded over a decade ago in Highlandtown, but in 2007 they made the move into the East Rosemont community where they serve 16 "academically-talented youth"—eight boys and eight girls—who come from "difficult living situations."

Jennifer Meyerhoff, a spokeswoman for the organization, describes it as a long-term residential program; Boys Hope, Girls Hope serves kids from the time they enroll, sometimes at just 11 or 12 years old, until they graduate high school and head to college.

"The idea is that we can give these kids who really have something special inside of them—you've got a kid who unbeknownst to the school they’re going to is moving from homeless shelter to shelter with a parent but shows up every day, has homework done and grades are good," Meyerhoff said. "This is obviously a kid who has something special who, at such a young age can deal with adversity and have some success in their life."

Meyerhoff said that the program is elective: children are referred by guidance counselors, principals, teachers and pediatricians and both the student and the student's guardian have to agree to be part of the program.

"We go through a lengthy process to make sure they’re right for us and we’re right for them. Nothing worse than for a kid who has had a struggle to be put into a difficult situation," she said. "They undergo extensive testing ... we look at their grades, talk to their school, visit their home and they visit with us several times before a decision is made."

Since the program moved to the area back in 2007, eight boys have lived in a home at the corner of Walther and Fleetwood Avenues with three full-time, live-in counselors.

The idea is to take kids out of a difficult living environment and provide them with what Meyerhoff calls a "healthy family dynamic": the counselors cook dinner every night, drive students to and from after school activities and generally play the role a parent might.

Students are expected to keep a 3.0 GPA, participate in extracurricular activities, give 100 hours of volunteer service and do chores to earn an allowance, Meyerhoff explained.

It's much the same in the nearby girls house, which was built in 2010 when Boys Hope, Girls Hope applied to Extreme Makeover Home Edition to launch the girl's part of the program.

"It helps these kids to feel safe and gives them a platform to focus on their studies," she said.

And so far its been a success—every student to graduate from program has either graduated college or is currently enrolled in college.

"One young lady in the girls house ... told me recently that before she came she was living with her grandmother. She has several other siblings living in different foster care situations. She could not focus on schoolwork because she was worried about her siblings and where they were. She can now focus on what’s most important, not being a parent but being a 14 year old who wants to succeed in school."

Students in the program are primarily from Baltimore City, Meyerhoff said, but it's not uncommon for them to come from all over the state. One of the girls in the program, she said, is from Howard County.

They attend private schools in Baltimore County and Baltimore City—St. Paul's School for Girls, Loyola, Mother Seton Academy, and Calvert Hall, where the oldest boy in the program will graduate this spring.

They've also volunteered their time far and wide.

"Boys go door to door and hand out newsletters, they’ve shoveled snow before, helped out at communitywide events [in the East Rosemont Community Association area]," Meyerhoff said. "On a larger scale, the scholars have volunteered and continue to at Art with a Heart, Reginald Lewis Museum, Bike Maryland, Franciscan Center. Beans and Bread ... on and on. If there is a need here in the Baltimore community these kids have connected with it."

Meyerhoff is quick to point out that the students were recognized by the Baltimore Ravens in October as part of the 13th Annual HonorRows awards, which recognizes outstanding community service.

And they're always looking for interesting, unusual community service opportunities, she said.

Of course, the organization is hungry for volunteers of its own.

"We love volunteers, we need volunteers," Meyerhoff said. "We have needs on different levels—we need tutors ... someone who can come and bring groceries and cook a dinner one night to give our staff the night off ... experts in their field to come and make a presentation ... contractors and builders to join our facilities maintenance committee ... people who will help us put together college packages for our collegians."

To contact Boys Hope, Girls Hope Baltimore about volunteer opportunities check out the organization's website and fill out an application.

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