September 7, 2018. That’s the day the Esperanza Center suffered extensive damage from a fire at the neighboring business, Budeke’s Paints, in the 400 block of South Broadway, in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, forcing the relocation of all the center’s programs.
Although the building is still being renovated, Esperanza has continued its work throughout the community – while eagerly anticipating its homecoming.
“The Esperanza community – clients, staff, partners, and volunteers – is eager to return home. We are so excited to be back on Broadway before the end of the year,” said Program Director Matthew Dolamore. “I am grateful to everyone for the tremendous outpouring of support we received both after the fire and now during the pandemic. Our return will be a true community triumph.”
A comprehensive resource center run by Catholic Charities, Esperanza provides education, health care, immigration legal services, family reunification, anti-trafficking, and general community support for the immigrant population throughout Maryland, surrounding states, and Washington, D.C.
Since the fire, Esperanza programs were displaced to various locations. The free health clinic and client services hub moved to nearby Assisi House’s first-floor hall. With temporary walls for privacy, three clinicians see immigrant patients for non-emergency conditions. The center’s staff navigates the space to help with forms, translations, notary services, crime reporting, employment, school enrollment, benefit applications and housing. Immigration Legal Services now operates out of the Catholic Relief Services building at 228 W. Lexington St., while Education Services shifted operations to 3700 Eastern Ave., and the Family Reunification program continued in its permanent home at 1625 E. Baltimore St.
In more recent months, the center has also responded nimbly to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some health services shifted to virtual platforms, and the center helped launch a dedicated hotline to answer and triage coronavirus-related concerns in English and Spanish. With local and national support, staff also started delivering food and cleaning supplies to immigrant families who had been tested for COVID-19 so they could stay home and limit the spread of the virus.
It has been a community effort to keep the work of the Esperanza Center ongoing. Many groups – including Assisi House, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical and Event Preparedness and Response, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and Catholic Relief Services – have given space, equipment and other invaluable assistance.
But as Catholic Charities Executive Director Bill McCarthy said shortly after the 2018 fire: “Our top priority remains serving our neighbors and people in need.”