When Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J. came to Loyola University Maryland to teach law and social responsibility in 1987, Loyola was establishing an annual trip to do service in Mexico through Campus Ministry. It was clear, however, that there was also a need and interest in “serving in our own backyard” in Baltimore.
Fr. Brown helped Loyola develop partnerships and programming and, in 1992, he co-founded the Center for Values and Service with Erin Swezey—then director of Loyola’s Community Service Office, who now works for fellow Jesuit institution, Seattle University.
Early efforts included a handful of service partnerships, with a focus on helping those experiencing homelessness, and immersion programs like Spring Break Outreach, which engaged Loyola students in service in Appalachia and American cities for the week of spring break.
“Loyola was one of the first Jesuit schools on the East Coast with a dedicated community service office and with an internship model of inviting students to take charge of community-based partnerships and student recruitment,” says Fr. Brown, associate professor of law and social responsibility, as well as director of mission integration. He remembers that time as a “movement” of exciting growth and change for Loyola’s academics, athletics, and more.
Over the past three decades, the center—now the Center for Community, Service, and Justice (CCSJ)—has grown and evolved into a “one-stop hub for all kinds of pathways for engagement,” says executive director Gia Grier McGinnis, Dr.PH. “CCSJ is the connector between the campus, the broader community, and the city of Baltimore and beyond, with a focus on the York Road corridor.”
CCSJ is critical to Loyola’s Jesuit mission, especially in helping students let the “gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage in it constructively,” as called upon by Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former Jesuit Superior General.
“We put faith in action by integrating our Jesuit values and providing people practical ways to get involved as we walk with our partners as collaborators,” McGinnis says.
In a typical year before the pandemic, more than 2,500 Loyola students and 70 faculty participated in community-engaged courses, legislative internships, volunteering, immersions, community development, advocacy work, and more. The past few years have been a time of rebuilding—and positioning for future growth.
Loyola has become a model for place-based initiatives through the York Road Initiative (YRI), with a focus on community development in the neighborhoods adjacent to its Evergreen campus in northern Baltimore City. The YRI works to improve education and youth development, build civic capacity, and strengthen the York Road commercial corridor.
One highlight is the well-established and beloved Govans Farmers’ Market, which is gearing up for its twelfth season offering affordable, fresh and local produce in an effort to ensure food equity for all. This program, and all of YRI’s initiatives, are made possible through strong partnerships.
“CCSJ helped propel me and the York Road Partnership into new territory,” says Donna Blackwell, York Road Partnership president from 2016-20, who further established and gained visibility for the coalition of 20+ neighborhoods, organizations, and nonprofits in part through her advocacy work with city agencies.
This spring and summer, YRI will move forward with York Road community development projects—including efforts to support the farmers’ market, provide youth opportunities, and paint a mural—through the support of a U.S. Small Business Administration grant.
“We will continue to find ways to be in solidarity with our neighbors up and down the York Road corridor,” says Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D., president of Loyola who, in a prior role, was instrumental in developing and launching the YRI. “I plan to become further involved in working with partners to address issues impacting our city of Baltimore and to help us build on our many strengths; CCSJ is a critical part of this work.”
CCSJ will continue to grow in its pursuit of Magis—the more—from a position of strength as Loyola’s dedication to community engagement has become recognized widely. Among recent accolades, the YRI received a Transform Mid-Atlantic’s P20 Partnership Award for demonstrating a community-based approach to learning, with equity and social justice at the forefront. In addition, Loyola was the only university in Baltimore City—and the only private institution in Maryland—to be awarded the national Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, a coveted distinction held by only 350 universities in the country.
What’s more, CCSJ has proven invaluable for the thousands of students who have participated in its programming, like Jacob Bierstaker, ’23, a sociology major who has held several CCSJ roles, including most recently with the YRI commercial corridor, as he’s prepared for a career in social work.
“Working with CCSJ has made me realize that it is necessary for institutions to be involved within their communities and to be an ally for the people and city in which they find themselves,” Bierstaker says. “Throughout the last four years, I have gained so much perspective, insight, and knowledge around issues of justice and equity and how we can build a better world—many of the values central to our mission of diversity, equity, and inclusion that I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life.”
By Jessica Goldstein, Content Specialist, Loyola University Maryland
Learn more about Loyola’s Center for Community, Service, and Justice at Loyola.edu/CCSJ.