The Village Learning Place (VLP) is a dynamic 501(c)3 nonprofit library, learning center, and community garden in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore City. The VLP’s mission is to promote literacy, cultural awareness, and lifelong learning, offering free, high-quality educational, cultural, and outreach programs that are specifically designed to meet the diverse needs of neighborhood residents and to unite and strengthen the community.
The VLP’s Victorian brick building was an original branch of Baltimore’s public library system. When the Charles Village branch was closed in 1997, neighborhood residents fought, rallied, and created the Village Learning Place to fill the community’s need for accessible resources of all kinds.
Charles Village is a socioeconomically and racially diverse inner-city neighborhood. While boasting a strong tradition of activism, the community faces the challenges of poverty, drugs and violence. The VLP’s neighbor and partner, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, has seen two murders on its block in 2010. Margaret Brent is a Title I school, with over 90% of students receiving free or reduced-price meals. Academic performance is consistently lower than the City’s average. the VLP’s Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids (LINK) program has helped students attain higher academic achievement, increased family involvement significantly, and built a culture of safety, respect, and engaged learning. Through its programs, services, and partnerships, the VLP serves as an anchoring institution and a partner in a healthy and cohesive community.
The VLP is a circulating community library and garden that are open to the public at least 40 hours per week, including evening and weekend hours. Ongoing adult and senior cultural programming, from author readings and jazz concerts to cooking demonstrations and cardiac health workshops, help strengthen the community’s involvement in the great collaborative project that is the Village Learning Place.
Through a partnership with Baltimore City Community College, the VLP provides GED and computer classes to adults, both of which are needed in a city where the high school graduation rate has just climbed above 50%. The VLP also provides outreach programming for teachers and schools in Baltimore City. Books2Go reaches over 800 Baltimore City Schools and Head Start students each year, fostering a love of reading, building home libraries, and modeling best read-aloud practices for students and teachers.
In the three years ahead, programming will expand to serve early childhood and high school students. The VLP’s education team has envisioned this strengthened and expanded LINK as a “cradle to gown” initiative. In a cradle to gown approach, LINK will guide learners from before they enter Pre-Kindergarten until they graduate from high school ready to confidently enter college or the workforce, pursuing a lifetime of learning. Cradle to gown also means a multi-year impact on the whole family, and the VLP will connect LINK family members with its full range of programs and services.