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Roof-Raising Altruism
Thanks to sales of leftover slate tiles from the Hopkins dome, a department’s generosity and employee volunteers, an East Baltimore family will soon have a place to call home.

blank The remodeled cafeteria: More choices, more seating and faster service.Neurosciences nurse Lisa Klein, left, Vanessa Bennett, Health System career services, and Tammie Kelly, Health System human resources, waterproof the basement.

In 2005, shortly after the exterior restoration of Hopkins’ Billings Administration building, Bob Kuhn couldn’t bring himself to discard the 116-year-old slate tiles that had protected the dome. Most were broken and useless, but a fair number were intact. “I figured someone would want to use them,” recalls the assistant director of facilities. “I just didn’t know how.” So he had them stored in a box for safekeeping.

Fast forward to 2007. Pamela Paulk met with Harry Koffenberger, vice president of corporate security, and noticed a framed slate tile on his office wall. And, in that instant, an idea was born. Paulk, the Hospital and Health System’s vice president for human resources, raced over to Kuhn’s office to see if any whole tiles were left. Yes, he said, but he couldn’t remember where they were. Three weeks later, Kuhn, accompanied by

Paulk, found them in a corner of the Orleans Street garage. Paulk sprang into action. After authenticating them with Medical Archives, she asked a professional framer to mount the tiles in shadow boxes under Plexiglas etched with an image of the Hopkins dome. Of the 1,100 tiles in storage, 975 were unbroken and suitable for framing.

Then, with Johns Hopkins Medicine leadership’s blessing, Paulk and JHM Senior Vice President Steve Thompson launched an unconventional fund-raising campaign through the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, offering the mementos for $300 to $500 apiece, depending on the frame style. Proceeds are supporting Hopkins’ many community support efforts, including Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity’s renovation of a two-story home at 811 N. Washington St. in East Baltimore for a low-income family. So far, 223 pieces have been sold.

But that’s only half the story.

For years, Paulk and Thompson had volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, helping to restore homes near the Homewood campus. On several occasions, Thompson had told HFH representatives that if they ever started rehabbing houses in East Baltimore, to let Hopkins join the effort. “We thought it would be a great way to reach out to the neighborhood and inspire our employees to volunteer,” says Thompson.

The opportunity presented itself last summer, when the city agreed, as part of the East Baltimore redevelopment, to sell some houses on Washington Street to HFH, in partnership with low-income families in need of housing. The houses are sold to qualified homebuyers at no profit through no-interest mortgage loans. Habitat’s construction staff, volunteers and homeowners work alongside each other to craft a “simple, decent” home, as HFH describes it.

But Paulk and Thompson wanted Hopkins to totally “sponsor” a house, which would require $100,000. Word spread fast among department directors. Government and Public Affairs stepped up first, contributing a significant amount to the cause.

Deidre Bishop, director of East Baltimore Community Affairs, recalls that the idea floated near the end of the fiscal year. “I thought it would be money well spent,” she says. “And it’s right at our doorstep—a prime opportunity to show our neighbors that we care about them.” Facilities, meanwhile, volunteered to help out with electrical, plumbing and ductwork. The unexpected bonus: HFH, which hires skilled contractors to supervise volunteers, accepted Facilities’ work as an “in-kind” donation, racking up more funds toward Hopkins’ support of the home.

The first rehab stage—demolition—took place last November. Facilities volunteers guided a crew of 16 Human Resources employees and administrative fellows and residents. All donned hardhats, masks and gloves. Clutching crowbars and sledgehammers, they tore through rotted walls, intermittently clearing a path.

“Dust was flying everywhere,” recalls military administrative fellow John Belew. The physical labor required to rip down a house surprised him. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done—and I’m in the Army!” But, he adds, “it was great fun, and we all felt good about transforming the house for a needy family.”

Seven hours later, the group had filled six dumpsters. Facilities carpenter Scott Howard, who hadn’t worked outside for 20 years, agreed that the demolition proved to be more involved than he envisioned. “But I’ve always wanted to do something for Habitat,” he says. “This was my chance.” Howard and three other Hopkins carpenters slashed through two floors, placed joists and framed the exterior walls. At this writing, they’re in the midst of laying new floors.

Since the demolition, teams from various departments have signed up to build walls, hang drywall, add trim and paint. “This process has really been amazing,” says Paulk. “Hopkins has come together at so many levels and is giving back to the community with money and sweat.”

Weather and workflow permitting, the house should be ready by June. At that time a celebration will take place, and the new owner will be handed the keys. Looking forward to that day, Paulk says she’ll arrive bearing a housewarming gift: a framed Hopkins slate tile. “We hope it will serve as a reminder,” she says, “that Hopkins used its roof and resources to help put a roof over a neighbor’s head.”

— Judy Minkove



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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