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Projects help revitalize Hagerstown’s South End

By Julie E. Greene, Herald Mail Media

A community tree grew in a railroad underpass over the weekend, and a field by Bester Elementary School was planted to attract butterflies.

The tree was a mural painted along the north wall of the West Memorial Boulevard railroad underpass less than a block from the school.

Both projects in Hagerstown’s South End show great things happen when people and organizations in the community work together, said Keith Fanjoy, CEO of San Mar Family and Community Services. The nonprofit oversees the Bester Community of Hope, which was involved in both projects.

The butterfly garden and mural are part of a long-term effort to revitalize the Memorial Boulevard corridor, Fanjoy said.

Volunteers from Hagerstown Artists Group, Community of Hope and the South End Neighborhoods 1st were working on the mural Sunday. The underpass was closed most of the weekend to allow for the work.

Hagerstown Artists member Charlotte Whalley, 25, of Hagerstown, came up with the design that included community input.

The tree signifies growth in the community and provides a welcome feel, Whalley said. Behind the tree is a sun over water. The neighborhood group wanted the design to include water because the underpass gets flooded during heavy rains.

Words like “hope,” “love,” “friendship,” and “together” appear in English, German or Spanish to reflect cultural heritages in the area. Volunteers were getting ready to paint the words early Sunday afternoon in some of the larger green bubbles that represent leaves.

Lesley Whalley, founder of Hagerstown Artists, said the group wanted to do a mural and ended up working with Fanjoy and the neighborhood group.

The Community of Hope helped fund the mural. Neighborhoods 1st President Melanie Pepple said the group used money the City of Hagerstown provided for neighborhood improvement projects.

Pepple said the group had been looking for a project for its northern boundary, and the mural brightens up an area that looked “grungy.”

Up the street, Community of Hope and Ladders to Leaders joined forces to plant the monarch butterfly garden that will become an outdoor classroom for Bester students, Fanjoy said. Wildflower seeds will be added to the area off South Potomac Street.

The Monarch Alliance and Community Foundation of Washington County funded the plantings, Fanjoy said. Community of Hope worked out the public-private partnership with Washington County Public Schools.

Eva Gillard, program administrator for Ladders to Leaders and whose daughter attends second grade at Bester, helped with the planting.

The project is a good idea not only for the students, but for the community, Gillard said.

Source article:

Bester Community of Hope celebrates good things happening in Hagerstown

By Alicia Notarianni, Whats NXT

For the third consecutive year, Bester Community of Hope will celebrate the good things happening in the South End of Hagerstown with the South Side Community Block Party.

Only this year, rather than celebrating in the field at Bester Elementary School, the party will be shifted Hagerstown City Park’s Peter Buys Band Shell.

“The biggest reason is that we had a larger turnout last year, and we know that with the kind of activities we have planned, we need a larger space to accommodate them,” said Keith Fanjoy. “City Park is located in the Bester Elementary School district and it seemed like a good neutral site for hosting the event.”

Fanjoy, who helped create Bester Community of Hope, is the project’s former director and current chief executive officer of San Mar Children’s Home in Boonsboro. Jen Younker took over as Bester Community of Hope director in July.

The community will be treated to free live music, games, local resource vendors, carnival games, train rides, laser tag and more from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22. Bester Community of Hope is a San Mar Initiative with specific strategies for positive outcomes for the children and families of the Bester Elementary School neighborhood. The effort is one of 14 national sites supported by Casey Family Programs for safe reduction of the number of children placed outside the home through building a better community.

“The biggest catalyst when we began doing Bester Community of Hope work was to try to shift the narrative to focus on the good things happening in the South End of the Hagerstown community,” Fanjoy said. “A community block party is a good way to bring together resources and families in the heart of the neighborhood where we are working to uplift and serve families.”

In its first year, roughly 1,000 people attended the block party. Last year, there was an estimated crowd of about 1,700 people. This year, organizers are anticipating even more, Fanjoy said.

“The community has really taken ownership of the activities,” he said. “There is nothing like being in the neighborhood where you live, celebrating all the good things going on, and having a good time while you are getting connected with resources. We will have a large number of community vendors so we can link families with local supports and resources.”

Participating social institutions include Washington County Health Department, and the Washington County Department of Social services, which supports Bester Community of Hope in its preventative efforts.

“We’ll have a lot of quality resources there that might help not just in times of need but just to help people get connected to local services that they may not be aware of,” Fanjoy said.

City Park presented itself as a natural resource in the city’s South End. It features attractions that some families might not yet have connected with on site and nearby, such as the Hagerstown Railroad Museum.

“There will be free rides on Tommy 202. We’ll be able to highlight some of those great local resources and create access and awareness of them,” he said. “There are other activities that will be run by volunteers who are neighborhood residents as well as staff members.”

Featured musical entertainment is the Chuck Brown Band, which also performed last year and performs at similar events in the Washington, D.C., area and beyond.

“They are very popular and we received positive feedback. We are bringing them back in part because they bring this eclectic, fun, urban sound,” Fanjoy said. “But what we really like about them is that they are also committed to a lot of the things that we are trying to do to strengthen neighborhoods and to support families.”

In seeking other acts with common goals, block party organizers found New Orleans-based national act The Soul Rebels. The band played once before in Hagerstown at the 2011 Western Maryland Blues Fest.

“They fit with this event and also bring a fun, exciting sound to Hagerstown,” Fanjoy said.

“The South Side Community Block Party is an opportunity for community organizations and residents and people from outside our area to come together and celebrate all the things that are going well. So often we are not able to do that,” Fanjoy said. “I hope to see everyone there Saturday. Rain or shine, it’s going to be a great time.”

Top photo: Dolores Agrinzonis, left, a volunteer with Horizon Goodwill Industries, speaks with Hagerstown resident Bianca Cook, right, during last year’s South Side Community Block Party event held on the grounds of Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown. (Herald-Mail file photo)

If you go …

WHAT: South Side Community Block Party
WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22
WHERE: Hagerstown City Park, 501 Virginia Ave., Hagerstown
COST: Admission to party is free. Concessions available for purchase.
CONTACT: Go to or go to South Side Community Block Party on Facebook
Source article:

I&I: Tomorrow’s Leaders program

Kerry Fair, Program Manager of Bester Community of Hope discusses our partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County

Resurrected Tomorrow’s Leaders program helps teens, community

By Alexis Fitzpatrick, Herald Mail Media

This summer, the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County brought back a program designed to help get teens ready for their futures, while also benefiting the community.

Partnering with Bester Community of Hope, Tomorrow’s Leaders pays teenagers a stipend to work at the Frederick Manor Club summer camp and arranges volunteer work at the Boys & Girls Club’s Elgin Station.

The Boys & Girls Club runs four after-school programs and summer camps for those 6 to 18 years old throughout Washington County. Bester Community of Hope is an initiative of San Mar focusing on the children and families in the Bester Elementary School neighborhood in Hagerstown.

A version of the program existed from 2003 until a few years ago, but funding issues led to its dissolution.

“Rebooting the Tomorrow’s Leaders is part of our plans to offer more services for our teens, as it is a gateway to official future employment,” Addie Nardi, Boys & Girls Club executive director, said in a news release.

The program, the third of seven weeks of which is finishing up, required the teens to apply and go through an interview before being picked. The job-readiness test they took prior to the program will be compared to one given later to check the effectiveness of Tomorrow’s Leaders.

Four participants are working at the Frederick Manor Club summer camp one day a week each, and three St. James School students are helping out at Elgin Station during two- and three-week shifts.

“It’s going over very well,” said Eric Rollins, Elgin Station area director. “Especially the students from St. James, they’re doing amazing. They have a lot of personality and they just help out tremendously in the program. At Frederick Manor, they live in the community, so it’s a benefit for them to know the staff, know the program and know the kids.”

Rollins was a participant during the inaugural program and said getting to see a new generation of leaders be affected by its guidance has been special.

Kerry Fair, Bester Community of Hope program manager, said she already was asked by the kids if they can expand the program throughout the school year. She said they are trying to work something out to continue past the summer.

“We believe that every neighborhood, every community has natural leaders within it, but sometimes they just don’t have the support, the encouragement, the empowerment, the funding isn’t there; there’s something that’s not able to elevate them to status. We’re really happy to have these kids,” Fair said. “It’s clear that they have something to offer.”

Daily tasks include assisting the staff, mentoring campers and providing a safe atmosphere for the kids.

For the teens, the main draw wasn’t the money, getting in some student service learning volunteer hours or even the work experience. It was the children.

Ashia Jones, 16, was going to volunteer anyway, since her brother is involved at Frederick Manor. The small stipend and other Tomorrow’s Leaders benefits just helped sweeten the deal.

“Children have always been an interest. I love putting a smile on a kid’s face, and knowing that they like me and I’m a cool person. It makes me feel better about myself,” Ashia said. “I would do it every day. I really enjoy coming here.”

Friends Kiandra Houser, 16, and Danielle Wolf, 15, were already involved with the Boys & Girls Club and jumped at the chance to work with kids.

Kiandra said she wants to be a family therapist when she gets older, so the experience she is getting now with Tomorrow’s Leaders is setting her up for success.

Danielle plans to become an elementary school teacher.

“I just think it’s a good opportunity for teens. It’s also a good opportunity for kids … especially a program like this. Sometimes they don’t have people to talk to at home and they might be able to relate more to us than adults,” Danielle said.

Another Boys & Girls Club veteran, Shada Datcher, 16, loves not only working with the children, but gaining experience to help guide others.

“We’re representing tomorrow, the future. We stand out. We are people that are leading the pack, so we’ve got people looking up to us, following us,” Shada said.

Source article:

Bus load of people participate in San Mar’s Great Bicycle Tour of the Historic C&O Canal

The Greatest Bicycle Tour of the Historic C & 0 Canal 2018 in the news! Thanks to all our riders who joined us this year!

‘We’re all in this world together’: New San Mar CEO talks about role, changes to organization

By CJ Lovelace, Herald Mail Media


This year has been one of transition for San Mar Children’s Home.

The agency has a new name, a new chief executive and a new direction that involved the closure of its longtime residential services to focus on a new strategy of meeting local families and youths in their homes and communities.

CEO Keith Fanjoy, who took the reigns in April following the retirement of Bruce Anderson, recently sat down with Herald-Mail Media for a wide-ranging interview about the agency’s future plans and goals in Washington County.

Herald-Mail: Bruce Anderson retired in March after 35 years. Talk a little about your experience with San Mar.

Keith Fanjoy: I’ve been an employee of San Mar for about 12 years and I’ve had a variety of roles with the organization, starting out as a caseworker for treatment foster care, then as an admissions director overseeing all of the case management and clinical interviews of all incoming female residents to our group homes, then, ultimately, as the deputy director of the agency about four and a half years ago. I helped to develop a new community-based effort under the San Mar umbrella called San Mar Community of Hope and I’ve been there since the fall of 2015, then, most recently, transitioning into the role of CEO as of April 2.

HM: You mentioned Bester Community of Hope. That’s kind of where the organization is headed now, correct? Can you talk about how the San Mar of old has changed into the San Mar of today?

KF: San Mar’s core values and our priorities have not changed. We still put a tremendous emphasis on children and those children in need. It’s our strategy that’s changed. We have made a strategic decision to move away from residential programming and try to put more energy into wrapping supports around families in their communities, or when a child can’t be safely managed in their home or community with caring and supportive adults. Our three anchor programs at San Mar are, first of all, Bester of Community of Hope. It’s our newest program. We also have a relatively new outpatient mental health center called the Jack E. Barr Center for Wellbeing. Then, at this time, our most mature and acute program which is our treatment foster care program, where we place children who have high intensity needs in caring and supportive families to hopefully stabilize them, meet their needs and help them return to their biological families, if possible.

HM: Are you still operating as San Mar Children’s Home or has the name changed with the different programs?

KF: In the past year, as we closed our residential programs, we changed our name officially to San Mar Family and Community Services to ultimately reflect the areas of focus for our organization that kids are still our top priority, but it’s the way we work with them through their family and their community that we believe is the most effective way to making a difference.

HM: So you have done away with your residential programs now?

KF: Yes. As of July of 2016, we went through a multi-year process ending in July of 2017 where we closed our various residential programs as we began opening more outpatient or community-based programs. So the shift was away from congregate care settings to focus more on meeting people in their environment. A lot of the shift and strategy comes from thinking of the child in the context of their family, in the context of their neighborhood. One of the things in this legacy of care that Bruce Anderson was able to implement at San Mar, there was no question that all the children who lived there had all their needs met. … The challenge ultimately became as the children were transitioning back to their family of origin, what we were as an agency to do more to support maintaining them in a community-based setting? This moral imperative kind of pushed us to seek answers, and as we found options that were creative and innovative, ultimately, it was the impetus for change for the organization.

HM: What’s been the reaction to the changes … from parents, from kids?

KF: Our community-based programming has been very positive overall. And we are very excited about the direction of being able to provide the same level of support to children in the context of their home environment with their whole family, not just one child. For those of us that have been in this work of residential and foster care, serving people earlier is so rewarding because we feel like ultimately the work that we’re doing is preventing people from having to go deeper into these foster care systems. … There is a sense of loss around the end of our residential programs, but as people come to understand how we’ve adapted our focus and are still putting kids front and center around that strategy, they get really excited. I think anytime an organization with such a long, rich history as San Mar goes through a change like this, there is a process to help the public understand what that looks like. The more people who come to understand it and become comfortable with it, they can really see that San Mar as an agency is very similar to what it has always been.

HM: Can you elaborate on the thought process that helped bring this new strategy to life?

KF: As we studied best practices across the country, as we were developing our community of hope model, we started to identify innovative ways to respond to children and families earlier. With that, that pushed our board of directors and senior leadership to make this bold new direction about how to support families earlier in a preventative capacity. … People think of San Mar and they say “the orphanage.” It’s because of our 130-plus-year history serving children in a residential capacity. Most recently, in the past 35 years under Bruce Anderson’s leadership, they would say the girls at San Mar, and those would be adolescent girls who needed residential care between the ages of 12 and 18. And really now today, we’re serving such a wide range of ages, of children and their parents, as well as whole neighborhoods. It’s a much broader approach to making a significant impact in the lives of children.

HM: When you talk about best practices, is one of those reaching children and families earlier to mitigate problems before they get worse down the road?

KF: We’ve just focused on moving up stream a little bit. Again, there will always be some level of need for acute services for children in great need, but we just want to do our part to ultimately contribute to reducing the amount of children that are impacted by systems of care.

HM: Is there a specific criteria for kids or family situations where San Mar gets involved?

KF: Each of our programs has a little bit of a different criteria for services, but for treatment foster care, we receive referrals from state agencies, primarily social services. Those are newborn children all the way up to age 21, boys and girls, who primarily are not able to be safely maintained in their home environment because of some type of abuse, neglect or a problematic family situation. Our goal, as we bring those children into licensed and certified families, is to provide for them and meet their basic needs, but also make sure that these families that they’re living with have a deep understanding of the trauma these kids have gone through so they can respond in an effective way to their behaviors. For the outpatient mental health center, it’s open to the community. We accept referrals. … The primary location for those services are at our Boonsboro campus. However, therapists who are working with a client who may have certain needs of meeting in closer proximity to Hagerstown, we can arrange that kind of service.

HM: In your time with San Mar, have you seen an increase in families in crisis?

KF: I think life is a lot more complicated today than it was even 20 years ago, but I do think that the needs, the stresses that are put on families and the lack of availability of nearby relatives, nearby community supports make it very difficult for families, especially those who are in low-income situations or impoverished communities. As far as an increase in need for mental-health services or those that are being impacted by drugs and those things, I think today we just look at those things a little bit differently. We spend a lot of time as an agency and doing trainings and talking to the public about trauma-informed practices, so that when we see these problematic behaviors from children or adults, it starts with what do we believe and see happening there. The three things we regularly talk about as a staff are to be trauma-informed, strength-based and solution-oriented. To break that down a little bit, being trauma-informed means we’re going to take the time to listen and understand what someone has gone through. Once we do that, we don’t want to spend a whole lot of time focusing on all the things wrong, so we have to be strength-based, which allows us to build momentum from the places where someone has had success. If we’re able to start doing that and motivating those people who are in some level of struggle or crisis, it’s only after those two things have happened that we can start talking about some solutions.

HM: What’s the biggest takeaway for the community about San Mar’s new scope of work?

KF: One of the things we talk about when we talk about individuals moving toward independence, we actually use the term interdependence because none of us have longterm success in life alone. We’re all in this world together, and there’s a certain level of desire for folks to figure it out, but until we take the time to really understand their experience and help them move through something, they’re not going to be able to do it. So as far as San Mar as an agency, I’m really excited about the long-term directions the board of directors and our senior leadership team has committed to. We’re committed to innovation and moving in a strategic direction that allows San Mar to be a 21st century human-services organization. … My hope longterm as we think how to address community needs, especially in the city of Hagerstown and beyond, is thinking how we can partner with others who are doing this work instead of duplicating efforts. … San Mar is alive and well, and we plan on making a major impact on Washington County in the coming years. We’re excited to be able to share our story with the community and look forward to traveling on that journey together.

For more information about San Mar and its programs or how to get involved as a volunteer, foster family or donor, contact the main office at 301-733-9067.

Source article:

Bester Community of Hope’s Collective Impact continues to educate community

By Alicia Notarianni, Herald Mail Media

During 2015, a coalition of community organizations came together to form Bester Community of Hope.

Since that time, the organization has brought to the Washington County area a series of nationally recognized speakers, offering trainings and models for addressing community needs and creating a positive social impact.

On Thursday, March 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Maryland Theatre, Bester Community of Hope, a San Mar Initiative, will continue its efforts to share visions of success for children and families through its fifth large community training, Collective Impact. The event will feature three national experts in education and community change, each of whom, the event flyer reads “have accomplished seemingly impossible outcomes, with common sense approaches you can implement in your organization.”

The speakers are Geoffrey Canada, Jim Sporleder and Dante DeTablan.

Keith Fanjoy, director of Bester Community of Hope, said the concept of sharing ideas in a practical way is key to the mission of the group.

“Really, the goal of these events if to capture the hearts and minds of people that live and work and try to make a difference in Washington County,” Fanjoy said. “We believe that helping to share beliefs around these major issues, people start to ultimately ask, ‘What is it that I can do to make a collective impact where I live? What are some specific things that I can implement?’”

Fanjoy, who is incoming chief executive officer of San Mar, said the partners involved in the organized efforts in the south end of Hagerstown are helping to “continue a dialogue of the most effective ways to serve children and families, that honors their history, builds on their strengths, and moves toward solutions.”

“We make the biggest impact through working with partners to get clarity around our shared beliefs,” he said.

The speakers

Fanjoy said it is rare to be able to “bring in the caliber of speakers we have been able to bring in over the past few years.”

Canada is a leader in the field of social reform nationally, according to Fanjoy. He is renowned for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem, N.Y., as president and chief executive officer of Harlem Children’s Zone, and for his involvement with Promise Neighborhoods, a program designed to improve outcomes for children in distressed communities. Canada has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and one of Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders.

“He is a voice that I think Hagerstown and Washington County can learn a great deal from about looking at insurmountable challenges in a very different way. Not looking at the problem and saying how unsolvable it is, but in maybe thinking about what it would take to make it happen, no matter what the obstacles are,” Fanjoy said.

Sporleder, best known for Trauma Informed Consulting, teaches that while traumatic experiences in childhood statistically result in increased behavioral and psychological risk factors, those factors can be offset by the presence of one dependable and caring adult. His service as principal, along with that of staff at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Wash., is featured in the film “Paper Tigers,” which was previously screened by a Hagerstown audience.

“What’s exciting about his training is that it is not just for people with an education background. The principles people will learn at the event can apply to every organization working with children and families and trying their best to make our neighborhoods a better place to live,” Fanjoy said. “It shows how when you work with an unconditional care platform, you can achieve extraordinary results even with those challenges.”

DeTablan is vice president of United Way Ben Franklin Center at Brooklyn/Curtis Bay which offers programs in education, health, housing and employment needs in south Baltimore.

“When we think about the things that are happening in our communities, there is a lot we can do, but it starts with us asking questions, about our organizations, our daily practices,” Fanjoy said. “Trainings like this ultimately can give us tools we need to make the impact that we are looking for.”


San Mar Family and Community Services, based in Boonsboro, began organizing a community improvement effort during 2014. That effort formally began as Bester Community of Hope in the South end neighborhood.

San Mar had posed a question to institutional leaders across Washington County, Fanjoy said, asking where, geographically, were the greatest amounts of needs, as well as momentum and opportunity for impact.

“There was a unanimous vote that this part of the community in the south end presented the greatest overlapping social need,” he said, “and also the greatest momentum, (in part) because of the strategic investment by the school system to build a big, beautiful, brand new school (Bester Elementary School).”

Bester Community of Hope’s first large scale training in 2015 was about Trauma Informed Care.

“It’s really the idea and practice around taking the time to listen and understand the experiences of the people we serve,” Fanjoy said.

Other Community of Hope events focused on Building Resilience and Healing Communities.

Pervious speakers have included “Paper Tigers” director James Redford, and Lonice Bias, mother of deceased All-American basketball player Len Bias.

Bester Community of Hope is part of an effort based in Seattle, Wash., and is one of 14 national sites receiving funding from Casey Family Programs. Part of that group’s goal is to reduce the number of children placed outside of their home.

Funding for speakers at area trainings is underwritten through local and national philanthropy and support. Sources include the Community Foundation of Washington County; Washington County Department of Social Services; Casey Family Programs; Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation; and other strategic partners, Fanjoy said.


Roughly 450 people have attended past Bester Community of Hope trainings. Collective Impact will be the group’s first event at The Maryland Theatre, and Fanjoy is hoping for as many as 600 people to participate.

“We get a cross section of all kinds of community organizations. People come from outside the region to learn, and this puts Hagerstown in a position of leadership as a community,” he said. “We are a community starting to make changes for good. Others are coming to Hagerstown to learn from us and to see how we are doing it. That is an exciting premise.”

It is a goal of Bester Community of Hope to remain on the “very cutting edge of understanding the most effective tools and practices to make a strategic impact in the lives of kids and families,” Fanjoy said.

Measurable success happens as other organizations take lessons from community trainings and implement them in their own work to improve the community. This is happening with participating groups, he said, Hagerstown Area Religious Council among them.

“We’ve seen them taking ownership, taking this on for themselves into their work,” Fanjoy said. “The results of the trainings have a ripple effect when people come to the trainings, and go go back to their organizations and ask, ‘How can we best implement these practices in our work?’”

Challenges of each community are unique, and there is not one-size-fits-all approach for success in solving problems.

“There are, however, principles we can follow together under a shared vision for success,” Fanjoy said. “A lot of challenges can be overcome by figuring out how to learn from one another, how we can implement tools, and best strategies and practices right here at home.”

WHAT: Bester Community of Hope’s Collective Impact

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $45 person; $30 per person for groups of 10 or more

CONTACT: Go to or call 240-513-6370

Source article:

Issues & Insiders: Longtime San Mar CEO stepping down (Part I)

Part I of CEO Bruce Anderson’s interview regarding his upcoming retirement

I&I: Longtime San Mar CEO stepping down (Part 2)

Part II of Bruce Anderson’s interview with WDVM news regarding his upcoming retirement