Activism in Takoma Park sparks new initiatives for residents
| By Monika Thomas |
Residents of Takoma Park, Md., see various forms of grassroots activism as a way to preserve the city’s history sense of community while adapting to the needs of a demographically diverse population. From health-based advocacy programs addressing African Americans’ and Latinos’ increased risk of diabetes to a “buy local” movement that seeks to preserve small businesses, residents say they feel their city is unique among the larger, more commercialized and racially divided communities that surround it.
One community activist says, through these varied grassroots initiatives, Takoma Park residents are making connections and creating a place where people can meet each other and hold conversations that have the possibility to spark change.
Bruce Baker is the Director of Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research, a non-profit organization that focuses on building healthy communities though education and research. Baker has been involved with this organization since it was just an idea between a group of community leaders.
From the start, Baker emphasized that he wanted to be a part of something larger, something that would benefit the entire community.
“A culture of innovation trying to crate a community that can shape its own destiny,” Baker says.
The Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research is conducting ongoing data research on health in the Takoma Park and Long Branch neighborhoods due to their rising rate of diabetes. Those communities have a diabetes rate that ranks among the highest in Maryland and in the top 20 in the United States. Organizers are also raising awareness about alcohol abuse by calling attention to a drastic increase in emergency room visitation rates.
Currently, Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research has a grant with from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation to implement three of the programs that were initially in the proposal.
The organizations are preparing to do a wellness circle for diabetics who don’t have control over their illness. Some may have already gone through a program but are still struggling to manage their problem. In this support group, Baker says organizers hope to get 40 uncontrolled diabetics back on track, which will have significant health consequences for them and for the community as a whole.
They are also doing a community health and wellness asset map that will gather information and illustrate where and what resources are available to the community. The map will illustrate physicians, dentists, in addition to the hospitals and clinics recreation and programs. . It will also help healthcare providers know where they should send patients after they have been discharged.
“We have a fragmented care system in our society, a fragmented care system has gaps, and a lot of people fall through those gaps,” Baker says. “And if we give people information and they know what’s available and what the assets are, it’s easier for them to bridge the gaps and we can build a more cohesive care system.”
Staff members at Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research have been working diligently to compile all of the information, and currently have completed the first draft and will be available for public use next year.
“There is still a lot more work that needs to be done locally to help build the community,” Baker says. “We are on the path to ignite.”
Takoma Park Silver Spring Kitchen
Activists who are building what is soon to be known as the Takoma Park and Silver Spring Kitchen take the first steps to their goal in the form of brainstorming sessions and open community forms.
Members of the Takoma Presbyterian Church looked at how they could use their building’s kitchen space, and how the community could benefit from the it. The Silver Spring food co-op was interested in having more locally produced food to sell that the Crossroads Food Community Network could provide to it.
The county council first had to pass a zoning amendment that would allow the community kitchen project to move forward, allowing the church to stand as an exception to its residential zoning because it was housing an organization with a social mission.
The President of the board of Crossroads Community Food Network, Lorig Charkoudian, who is also a member of the community kitchen coalition, says that it took the city council over a year to pass the new zoning amendment.
After that, they were granted a state bonds bill that needed to be matched by a fundraiser. Money also came from the state and city government as well as the Takoma Foundation and individual donations. But it didn’t stop there: Charkoudian ran a 31-mile train race to raise the remaining funds that needed to be matched.
“I trained for five months,” Charkoudian says. “In August, we completed that campaign and raised $31,000.”
Since then organizers have been working with architects and designers to work on the design of the kitchen. They are also working on a business plan and interviewing purveyors of other shared use kitchens for ideas. The main purpose of the kitchen will be a small business incubator that will get small businesses going, with a focus on low-income individuals.
The kitchen will not be limited to just that, but will also provide cooking classes to teenagers and the elderly who do not have the capabilities of making healthy meals. The recreational department of Takoma Park will teach cooking classes and food prep. The food pantry will also provide food to underprivileged families. Charkoudian says that sometime next summer or early the kitchen would be fully functional and ready for public use.
“We’re still working on it,” Charkoudian says. “It’s still a work in progress.”
Live Local, Shop Local, Give Local
At a meeting for a new program geared towards locally owned business, an early- 20th-century building is full of familiar faces. The newly elected president of the Takoma Foundation, Scott Ward, speaks with Takoma Park business owners on his plan.
The Takoma Foundation’s main purpose is to raise funds locally to reinvest in local organization in the forms of grants. This fall, the foundation has awarded more than 20 grants totaling more than $20,000.
In conjunction with the Old Town Business Association, the Foundation is starting a “Live Local, Shop Local, Give Local initiative,” to help raise more money through businesses that are already operational in Takoma Park.
According to Ward, Old Takoma Park is accelerating, becoming a destination shopping area for the region by incorporating businesses such as Blacks Restaurant Group and Busboys and Poets. Residents of Takoma Park are able and willing to spend with the median household income of more than $78,000 for residents.
“We are a community of solutions, we like to think that we are liberators of people that take good ideas and fuel them forward,” Ward says.
To build on that ideal, Ward said he needs the support of local businesses in Takoma Park to raise awareness about the campaign and pay it forward to other businesses.
On one Tuesday each month, a different business would donate a percentage of their sales to the Takoma Foundation. Adhesive stickers will adorn windows showing cohesion from the businesses that are participating in this new initiative. The promotion of this initiative doesn’t stop there: The Foundation also self-promotes through various social media platforms, local media, as well as direct member and donor services.
Ward says, “One of the things that I really love about the foundation is that we really run at the core of what Takoma Park is.”