Over the next several years, JP Morgan Chase plans to open 20 branches and 40 ATMs as part of a broad expansion across Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. But none may carry as much promise as the branch that opened its doors in mid-September in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill Town Center.

That Chase branch, the first physical bank in the Cherry Hill, represents a new kind of economic opportunity for the community. It is part of a larger effort to revitalize the shopping center, which Catholic Charities owns, to respond to the expressed needs of Cherry Hill residents and bolster a neighborhood that has faced decades of disinvestment.

“The shopping center has always served as a central social point in the community. It is the only commercial establishment in Cherry Hill … and a central cultural location,” said Michael Middleton, of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, in a recent interview.

Middleton has spent decades working for sustainable improvement across the neighborhood, and talks about the isolation Cherry Hill faced for much of that time. He described the racial segregation that separated the largely African American community from other parts of Baltimore, and the geographic isolation imposed by area highways, waterways and a railroad line.

“What was intended as barriers are all things we can use for our own benefit,” he said.

Community-driven response

Understanding the importance of social and economic justice in the revitalization of the Cherry Hill Town Center, Catholic Charities forged close relationships with neighborhood partners and groups, ensuring their interests drove the effort. The desire for a physical bank and more economic opportunity propelled Catholic Charities’ decision to recruit Chase to the site.

“JPMorgan has been a powerful partner in this effort,” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Bill McCarthy. “The bank is about giving a community an opportunity to thrive – to invest in its own ideas and businesses, to start new things, to help individuals learn what they need to know to be financially stable and then to grow wealth. To offer that kind of transformational support to a community is about partnership rather than profit.”

The transformational potential of the Chase branch has drawn attention. It was recently recognized by the Baltimore Business Journal’s Best in Real Estate Awards as a “Game Changer” for the neighborhood.

The overall revitalization effort has included upgrades to the shopping center’s façade. Catholic Charities will also help develop a large, currently vacant space into a community marketplace. The 5,000-square-foot area will host pop-up stalls for local entrepreneurs and food-related programs organized with local partners to respond to the community’s long-standing request for more healthy food options.

The “community doesn’t want organizations to come in with a ‘white savior’ mentality, coming to do things for you, but to … [be] willing to work with a community,” Middleton said. “Catholic Charities provides the resources to get us where we want to go, working with us to get there.”