How Judy Centers make multigenerational impact in Baltimore

By Brandon Block

It’s a Tuesday morning in the gymnasium of Dorothy I. Height Elementary School—a sleek, brick and siding building now in its second year of use—and My Gym is in full swing.
Toddlers dance, tumble, scream, and scramble as a neon green-clad gymnastics instructor offers encouragement that’s hardly needed.

“They’re working on socialization, gross motor skills, and making physical fitness fun,” says Desmonda Garnett, the outreach coordinator for the school’s Judy Center.

Today’s birth to four-year-old playgroup is one of the many activities open to nearby families even before they enroll their children in pre-K, courtesy of the Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Family Education Center—or Judy Center, as more commonly known.

Each one of Maryland’s 56 Judy Centers is a unique community hub that takes a multigenerational approach to education, supporting parents with housing, employment, and counseling resources.

An incomplete list of this month’s offerings at Dorothy I. Height includes a Dr. Seuss playgroup, a food giveaway, and the expert-led “Drumming with Dad” and “Cooking with Karen” classes.

Four out of five families at this Reservoir Hill school are considered low income, yet its preschoolers are outperforming their peers in one crucial metric: kindergarten readiness. For the 2018-19 school year, 55% of incoming Baltimore City children with Judy Center experience met kindergarten readiness benchmarks — compared to just 39% citywide.

Judy Centers are located in Title 1 schools, where at least 40% of families qualify as low income, and 80% receive special services like free or reduced lunch. By providing resources outside the classroom, Judy Centers were able to equip over 15,000 children across Maryland with the social skills needed for kindergarten in 2017.

“That social emotional piece is so important,” says Crystal Harris, the Judy Center coordinator at Dorothy I. Height, which also has a full-time mental health consultant on staff. “If kids aren’t able to share, aren’t able to express their emotions, are they ready to learn?”

Many parents say the same. A recent survey conducted by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) found that parenting support was the most valued program offered by Judy Centers.
Social resources like food/nutrition classes, playgroups, and literacy activities ranked highly as well.

Down the hall, about half a dozen parents pass bagels and binders across a child-height table and talk about their kids.

Rosalyn James, 62, has been coming to the Chicago Parenting Group offered by the Judy Center for two years. She had surgery last year that prevented her from taking her subway-and-bus route to the school, so she got another parent to call her during class so she could listen through the phone.

“This class is a blessing for me,” James says. She inherited her mother’s strict “old school” parenting style, but the class taught her how to engage more openly with her greatniece Amiyah, whom she watches during the week. James has already noticed an effect.

“I’ve reversed it,” she says. “Instead of Amiyah tiring me out, I tire her out.”

The class is also a stress release and bonding experience for parents and grandparents to vent about problems they have—and to share solutions.

“We’re all out here thinking that it’s only ourselves, and really we’re all going through the same thing,” says one parent who attended for the first time that day, seeking “a better way to communicate” with her 5-year old son. “Lord knows I think I’m the only one.”

In fact, thousands of parents look to their Judy Center for support and community: The BERC survey found that 55% of parents reported using parenting support resources like classes or counseling.

As parents leave the playgroup, Harris is camped out by the door to thank them.

“That’s six new kids that we did not know about that live in our community,” she says proudly. “Just today.”

+ posts
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Who We Are – Sidebar
Recent Article
Sidebar Ad
Building Stronger Neighborhoods Regionwide

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Regionwide

We have a nearly 30-year history of offering grants to resident-led groups and community projects in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. These grants give residents the resources they need to accomplish a small project, get more people involved, and encourage the next generation of neighborhood leaders. We also fund programs that support the development of leaders of all ages who are working to improve their neighborhoods and schools. Our support is intended to help identify, activate, inform and network leaders. And finally, we believe when schools and neighborhoods team up to improve their school and community, meaningful and lasting change can be made. We are interested in funding proposals in which the students and adults in schools collaborate intentionally with community residents, neighborhood associations, and other individuals, groups, and institutions in the area surrounding a school.

School Leadership

School Leadership

We believe that attracting and retaining effective and diverse school leaders is a key lever for change in Baltimore's educational landscape, and so we fund school leadership development efforts at the district and individual school level. We are interested in funding proposals that focus on principal coaching, mentoring, peer networking, wellness/self-care, as well as pipelines that identify and develop new leaders. We will also continue to support efforts that build a culture of appreciation and encouragement for school leaders.

How Can We Help?

Melissa McC. Warlow
Director, Baker Fund Grants Program
410-332-4172 x150

Apply for a Grant

Our on-line application system provides applicants with a portal to start a new grant application or to continue updating an application already in process. Please be sure to select the “Save and Finish Later” button when you are finished working on your application in order to save your current session’s work. At any time during the application process you can select the “Contact Us” button in the top right corner of the screen and you will be able to send an email to the Baltimore Community Foundation staff with specific questions. 

To be considered for funding, proposals must be submitted through the online application portal, however, we provide a PDF version of the application along with other useful forms here for your reference:   

When you are ready please select one of the following options:


I have not applied for BCF funding online in the past.
Select this option if you have never used our website to apply for a grant from BCF.


I previously applied for BCF funding online in the past.
Select this option if you have applied for any of BCF’s grants using our website. Your profile may still be in our system and you may login using your account.

Place-based Grantmaking in Selected School Communities

Place-based Grantmaking in Selected School Communities

We have allocated funds for two geographical areas that bookend a crucial corridor on the Westside of Baltimore City: Howard Park /Forest Park area (served by Calvin Rodwell Elementary Middle School and Liberty Elementary), and Reservoir Hill/Penn North area (served by Dorothy I Height Elementary). In these three schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, we will support projects and activities designed to make the communities safe, clean, green and vibrant; and improve the quality of the schools. Some projects may be neighborhood-focused, some school-focused and others collaborative projects between the schools and their respective communities.

Early Learning & Judy Centers

Early Learning & Judy Centers

High quality early childhood education has a lifelong effect on students. Through our Early Learning grant program, we are interested in system-wide early childhood education proposals that will help Baltimore City and County's youngest learners, and their families, get the start they need. Nonprofit organizations that offer programs and/or services to Judy Centers are encouraged to contact the centers directly to explore partnership opportunities.

How Can We Help?

John A. Gilpin


Director of Planned Gifts
410-332-4171 ext. 132

How Can We Help?

Kate Sam

Communications Officer
410-332-4171 ext. 181

How Can We Help?

Cathy Brill

Executive Director
Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation