A citadel not on a hill, but on the ground with the people. This is the only way to describe what St. Francis Neighborhood Center (SFNC) is for the people of Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill community. At the intersection of Linden ave and Whitelock Street, visitors are greeted by blueberry bushes maintained by program youth, and they might take a seat at the bus stop bench installed at the intersection by SFNC. The first bus-stop bench to grace this crossroads since the 1990s’ which also doubles as a table should neighbors feel a hunch to eat or do homework while they wait on the bus.
Led by Baltimore’s own Torbin Green, SFNC directly services 200 kids per year through their out-of-school time programs, and over 6,000 annually. Torbin started with SFNC 9-years ago as a volunteer, “I got thrown under the fire with kids with development issues, they had issues with learning, and I came in and throughout the years I slowly worked my way up.” Torbin reminisced “I became an Operations Manager and [then] an Operations Director.” Now, Torbin is the interim Executive Director.
The Pope of Whitelock
The former Sylvan Learning Center Manager grew an adoration for learning from his mom who was a Librarian. Now only one month into his role as ED, Torbin is working to keep SFNC working for the community. Inspired by the example of SFNC’s founder, Father Tom Composto, who was defrocked from the church because he refused to leave the community he loved.Torbin realizes his work is about legacy as much as it is community, “That [legacy] was at peril when the original founder passed away in 2011, but a good crew and staff came in.”
“Father Composto was a fierce advocate for this community….they called him the ‘Pope of Whitelock,” Torbin explained.
Today at SFNC, kids are learning horticulture, silk screening, culinary arts, math, language arts, science, computer technology, and according to Torbin more is to come. “ We ask the kids what they like and what they want to do, and from that, we get a list of things, and we just choose from those.”
Joseph A. Bank Estate
The building SFNC operates from was once the estate of the popular clothier, Joseph A. Bank. Today, the original building is flanked by new state-of-the-art constructions that symbolize the future of the program. Notable add-ons include an elevator, a commercial kitchen complete with a walk-in, and state-of-the-art classrooms. “I literally had to use every inch of this building and in some cases, turn kitchens and stuff like that into classrooms,” explains Torbin.
A capital campaign was launched to support the growth of the center. Count On Me was launched to raise the millions needed to repair and add on to the building. Golf tournaments and other forms of fundraising came underway. Torbin recalls the challenges that came during the campaign, “No one thought we could do it.” However, they sought to prove the naysayers wrong, but an obstacle set afoot, “Our original goal was 4.1 million, our contractor backed out on us and it ended up costing 6.4 million.” They cut their plans in half and settled for a beautiful albeit smaller construction.”
Citadel on the Ground
SFNC is a small nonprofit, but its reach is massive. In response to an influx of Afghan refugees, the center now offers professional development, tech training, job training, and ESL classes every Wednesday. Other weekly programs include providing access to food every Monday and Wednesday, and free access to the computer lab.
“I try to keep my ear to the ground and listen to the needs- That’s what St. Francis is here for, resources and programs as the community needs”