Treating America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

A troubling fact to consider: firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans age 1-44. Even though African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population, this group is affected by over 54% of all firearm homicides. These statistics clearly show a racial disparity in terms of violence and public safety in our country.

English: Walther PPQ firearm

English: Walther PPQ firearm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For years, the government and social science field have focused on two seemingly ineffective methods to reduce gun violence:

  • Reactionary punishment measures, e.g., throwing people in prison
  • Programs that focus on fixing schools, homes, poverty, and family systems in an indirect effort to prevent future violence

Dr. Gary Slutkin, the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit Cure Violence, applied his knowledge from fighting international epidemic diseases such as cholera, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis to explain why these methods are not working and offer a new approach. In his TED Talk, Dr. Slutkin explained that punishment is not a main driver of behavior change, and successful preventive programs should focus on changing specific external factors rather than treating “everything on earth.”

After looking at maps and data for gun violence, Dr. Slutkin concluded that homicides are similar to infectious diseases in that they are clustered geographically, occur in waves, and the greatest predictor for new cases are preceding cases within the observed community. From these observations, he proposed that the steps to reduce gun violence should follow the same principles that are used to reverse disease epidemics:

  1. Interrupt transmission
  2. Prevent future spread
  3. Shift the norms

The nonprofit Cure Violence applied these principles in their programs, hiring violence interrupters from within the community to interrupt and prevent violence, incorporating outreach workers to prevent future spread by giving affected community members six months of ‘therapy,’ and implementing community activities and public education to shift the norms.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Center for Disease Control, and Johns Hopkins have commissioned studies replicating this approach in 11 communities. So far, 16% of shootings and 34% of killings have been directly reduced as result of this program, and communities where the program is implemented have experienced an overall 41% reduction in shootings and 73% killings as a result of gun violence.

This new approach could ultimately signify a shift in the way that gun violence is prevented throughout the country, and therefore reduce the number of African Americans and other racial/ethnic groups who are injured or killed every year.

What do you think about this strategy of treating gun violence like an infectious disease? Please comment below and let us know.

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The Right to Control What is Inalienably Ours

A poster from a 1921 eugenics conference displ...

A poster from a 1921 eugenics conference displays the U.S. states that had implemented sterilization legislation by then (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an African-American woman activist, both racial justice and gender equality are important to me.  Thus, I was appalled when I read about the state of North Carolina’s history with eugenic sterilizations.  North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people through its sweeping eugenic sterilization program and “the targets of the sterilization were disproportionately Black and female, and almost universally poor.”

Johanna Schoen, a Rutgers University historian who has extensively documented the state’s eugenics policy, stated, “The eugenic sterilization really was an attempt to control the reproduction of women on welfare more than anything else.”

North Carolina’s eugenic sterilizations is an example of what can happen when you dehumanize people based upon race, gender, and socio-economic status.  Once you dehumanize a ‘class’ of people, then it becomes easier to treat them like animals.

We are not animals, thus we do not need to be controlled.  We are human beings, and as such, we deserve to be treated with respect.

Today, across the United States, women’s health, including reproductive rights, continue to be attacked, encroached upon, and is the subject of congressional testimonies, Supreme Court rulings, and local, state-based initiatives.

How many times do we have to speak out against ignorance a la “…in instances of ‘legitimate rape’ women’s bodies somehow block an unwanted pregnancy…” and “…when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege…,” before the nonsense ceases?

Women’s rights are human rights, therefore, it is in every human being’s interest to respect and advocate for our ability to control what is inalienably ours – our health.

Do you agree?

From Vacants to Vegetables: How do I build a garden By: James McComas

Cross-posted from UNspOILed

Read original article here:

As reported in my last post, I obtained rights to build a community garden on a vacant lot from the City of Baltimore. But I have never actually gardened, and had no idea how to build a garden from scratch. After doing my homework, and looking into examples of urban gardens online and around the city, I had a better idea of where to start. So this is what I had to start with (see above). Not so great in the natural light department, but at least there wasn’t any trash to clean up!

The lot. 414 E 26th Street, Baltimore, MD. Not much to start with, but at least there is no trash.

Before you do anything, you should put a sign up on your lot to let neighbors and passersby know what is happening to the lot. Feel free to give it a name, something fun and quirky. You should also consider providing contact information, like an email address, in case people have questions or want to join in. I named my plot The Kailyard, the Scots name for a cabbage patch or vegetable garden. I got a friend to help paint the sign for me, as I lack artistic skills.

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The Kailyard. An adopted community garden. Such a pretty sign. Although the wind has already given it quite a beating.

The second thing you should do is measure your plot so that you know how much land you have to garden with. This will help you determine how much you can grow, and if you are growing with others, how much space you have to divide up. You should also determine what type of soil you have. Generally there are six types of soil: clay soil, sandy soil, silty soil, peaty soil, chalky soil and loamy soil. Each type is better for growing different things. Here is a good guide that I used. You should also get a soil tester kit to determine the pH and levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, the three main nutrients. I decided to go withLuster Leaf because it is cheap and reliable, but most tests get the job done.

Next you need to determine where exactly you will plant in your plot. You can plant most vegetables straight into the soil, after tilling and fertilizing, but raised garden beds fight erosion, help with drainage and give greater exposure to the sun. They are fairly simple to build, and a variety of guides are available online, as well as kits to purchase at home improvement stores. I chose the simple route and decided to build 3-foot by six-foot beds out of six, six-foot long 2″x4″s, using only a hammer, a saw and some nails. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on lumber and tools, because all it was going to do was hold dirt (experts recommend using cedar lumber, as it is rot resistant.) So I headed to a local re-purposing store, Second Chance, Inc., that sells reclaimed lumber for cheap. They are a non-profit organization that deconstructs buildings and sells the materials for cheap. I will need to build a few more, and get some more dirt to fill in, but it is a start.

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One raised garden bed. I will need to build a few more to fully utilize the space.

I also decided to build a composting pit. While there are many different types available for purchase, I wanted to see how a simple wood enclosure would fare, and bought some re-purposed barn wood to throw something simple together. Composting in the city can be quite the arduous task, so be sure to know what you are getting into. Check out this composting guide that we posted on composting in the city a little while back for some great tips.

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Composting pit. Nothing pretty, but it is holding kitchen waste after all.

In preparation for the growing season, you should begin to think about what you want to plant and, if all goes well, eat! You should plant a variety of vegetables in each garden bed in order to protect against disease and keep healthy soil. But don’t get too eager and start planting right away; you should wait until the middle of May to start sowing your seeds, as frost can kill off young seedlings. Some vegetables, like pepper and tomato plants, can and should be started in-doors and transplanted to the garden after a couple of weeks. I got a start on both peppers and tomatoes in some in-door pots.

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The beginnings of a bell pepper plant. Amazing what some sun, water and good soil can do to a tiny little seed.

The growing has yet to begin, but progress has been made. Check back in May to see how the plants are doing, and if the rats have been kept out of my compost!

Reducing Obesity while Revitalizing America’s Cities

English: Photo of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma mayo...

English: Photo of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma mayor Mick Cornett. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a period of five years, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was able to rally citizens and policy makers to simultaneously accomplish two seemingly unrelated and ambitious tasks – reduce obesity among residents while drawing a new group of educated “20-something” Americans to live and work in the city.

It all began when Men’s Fitness magazine ran an article in 2007 that ranked Oklahoma City as #7 on a list of “America’s Fattest Cities.” Obesity is a health issue that affects more than one-third of Americans, leading to an estimated $147 billion in annual medical costs to treat the resulting conditions of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

For Mayor Cornett, it was a wake-up call to find out that Oklahoma City was one of the most obese cities in a country struggling with obesity rates. He publically declared “This city is going on a diet!” and proposed that the city lose a total of one million pounds. Citizens began to rally, forming fitness and support groups in churches, schools and workplaces. People entered their progress on the website thiscityisgoingonadiet.com.

Meanwhile, policy makers ramped up city planning measures to make streets safe and walkable, adding health-related infrastructure such as new parks, hundreds of miles of new sidewalk, senior health and wellness centers, and a street car system. Streets were re-designed to be pedestrian friendly, with shorter cross-walks and new sidewalks developed between schools and homes. Local youth were encouraged to take part in new canoe, kayak, and rowing programs that were started on the river.

Within five years, Oklahoma City succeeded in dropping one million pounds, and went from being on the Men’s Fitness list of “America’s Fattest Cities” to its list of “America’s Fittest Cities.”

And, something unexpected happened along the way. Young people, who had been leaving Oklahoma City in droves for several decades to settle on the east or west coasts, began staying. In fact, a large number of educated “20-something” Americans began flocking to Oklahoma City from other parts of the region and all over the country.  People wanted to live in a city that offered safe and walkable streets, and a revitalized downtown area.

If all mayors and city planners across America could follow Oklahoma City’s example, then our country could become less obese and healthier, possibly leading our cities to become even more attractive destinations for home buyers and renters. Let’s maximize our investment by challenging our residents and policy makers to reduce obesity in communities across America.

Do you think that this approach would work in your city or town? Please comment below and let us know.

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Nature Deficit Disorder: It’s a thing

Cross-posted from Nature Deficit Disorder – It’s a Thing– UNspOILed. Read original post here.

View from Buzzard Rock in George Washington Na...

View from Buzzard Rock in George Washington National Forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently returned from a three day backpacking trip in a remote area of the George Washington National Forest. It was a much needed vacation from my urban-focused life, allowing me to reconnect with nature, and helping ward off symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder. Yes, that is a thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the city, and actually prefer it to a rural or suburban lifestyle. But as someone who has also spent significant periods of their life residing in rural places, I recognize the countless emotional and physical advantages that engaging with nature on a regular basis provides. Escapes to the countryside or hikes in the wilderness are a necessary part of my life, and are a large part of what I discussed earlier in my post Why I Walk: A Pedestrian Manifesto.

Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Wilderness. Louv makes the argument that today, children are becoming increasingly isolated from, and even afraid of, nature, spending large amounts of time indoors, often staring at screens. He further argues that this lack of interaction with the natural world results in a wide range of behavioral and health problems. While Louv sees this as a more recent phenomenon, its origins date back to the industrial revolution and urbanization in the 18th and 19th centuries.

How, then, do we reconcile our urban lifestyles with the desire and need to connect with nature in order to ensure both physical and mental health? A chapter in Louv’s book, “Eden in a Vacant Lot,” suggests that even small, untended pieces of land offer opportunities for exploration and discovery of nature, and rejoices the tens of thousands of vacant lots in Detroit as providing countless opportunities for this.

Patrick Geddes's regional plan of a valley section.

Patrick Geddes’s regional plan of a valley section.

However, if we are to truly integrate nature into the lives of city dwellers, we need to think beyond vacant lots. Patrick Geddes, an early 20th century Scottish urban planner, did just that. Geddes believed that urban areas were the ideal space for human existence, but recognized that this built environment must be part of a broader region that encompassed the historic environments and experiences of our shared past. He realized that cities are not vacuums (leading him to invent the term “conurbation”), and that our existence in them should likewise not be in a vacuum. We should not only interact with people from all walks of life, but we should interact with all different types of environments (this can best be seen in his plan for the White City in Tel Aviv.)

Just because you live in a city does not mean you can’t explore nature. Go to a park, walk along a waterfront, and if you are lucky and able, go for a long hike or walk just outside your city limits. It will do your mind and body a wealth of good.

Veterans Die…Waiting for Medical Care

VETERANS DAY 2013

VETERANS DAY 2013 (Photo credit: arbyreed)

We sing the national anthem with pride, take the day of November 11th to remember those who served our country, wear “Support Our Troops” paraphernalia, and thank veterans for risking their lives…but what does it matter if we fail to accommodate their health upon return?

I am extremely disappointed with the recent medical record fraud in Phoenix, VA. According to a recent preliminary report, “at least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled an appointment and were never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, raising the question of just how many may have been ‘forgotten or lost’ in the system.”

Unfortunately, this is not as rare as we may think. The report also states that “forty-two VA medical centers across the country (are) now under investigation for possible abuse of scheduling practices.” What is even more disheartening is the fact that it took at least 40 veterans to die while waiting for medical appointments to eventually prompt an investigation into this tragedy.

The way our heroes have been treated is absolutely unacceptable.

As these investigations continue, here are a few things we can do:

  • Contact your member of Congress and ask that they draft and/or support legislation that would create more liaison positions for veterans to speak to about grievances, and get the help they need in a timely fashion.
  • Volunteer at veteran support organizations.
  • Vote to get rid of local representatives that are not addressing the needs of veterans; vote in people with a track record of supporting veterans and/or solid plans for doing so

Though I am very disappointed and saddened that many of those who have served our country remain affected by flawed medical practices, causing them to fall through the cracks, I do not want my present sentiments to overshadow my constant gratitude to our troops.  To all of our veterans – thank you!

Please comment below on how we can support and ensure that our troops have access to quality and timely medical care.

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A Meaningful Work-Life Experience for Autistic Adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  It is nearly impossible to identify how many adults in the United States are on the autism spectrum.  This is because the research and knowledge around autism has rapidly increased in recent years – giving the appearance that there are more children than adults with autism, however there is research to support that autistic adults suffer from health disparities at a higher rate than non-autistic adults.

autism awareness

autism awareness (Photo credit: Send Chocolate)

 

According to Autism Speaks, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.  These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.  ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues.  These characteristics – alone or combined – can hinder adults from securing jobs and maintaining employment.

 

According to a study released at the International Meeting for Autism Research, people with ASD are more likely to suffer from depression, high blood pressure, and obesity than people who do not have the disorder.  Additionally, adults on the autism spectrum often have health issues associated with social isolation, such as alcohol use and smoking.  Key results for autistic versus non-autistic adults include:

  • Depression:  38 percent vs. 17 percent
  • Suicide attempts:  1.6 percent vs. .3 percent
  • High blood pressure:  27 percent vs. 19 percent
  • Cholesterol problems:  26 percent vs. 18 percent
  • Obesity:  27 percent vs. 16 percent
  • Alcohol use:  23 percent vs. 53 percent
  • Smoking:  16 percent vs. 30 percent

In addition to facing an increased occurrence for health disparities, adults with autism generally need some form of assistance, counseling and/or coaching with the following life skills:

  • Establishing and maintaining personal and professional relationships
  • Finding an appropriate living arrangement
  • Learning and improving upon communication skills
  • Seeking and maintaining employment

Exceptional Minds, a non-profit vocational center and animation studio for young adults on the autism spectrum, seeks to provide life skills resources to young autistic professionalsExceptional Minds is committed to creating a world in which individuals on the autism spectrum are recognized for their talents and abilities.  The vocational school provides young adults with customized instruction and hands-on experience to earn a living in the fields of multi-media, computer animation and post production.  Next month, the school/job-training program will graduate its first nine students.

The Exceptional Minds program provides adults with ASD with life skills, real world experience and job training, but more importantly, gives students the “tools and confidence to achieve dreams” as illustrated in this video:  http://exceptionalmindsstudio.org/index.html.

I am hopeful that as we continue to learn more about adults living with ASD, companies and organizations will follow Exceptional Minds’ lead in providing young autistic professionals with job opportunities and a meaningful work-life experience.

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Decarceration: Resuscitating our Squandered Resources

Every year, 11% of Baltimore’s population goes through central booking. One in four African American children have a father in prison at some point during their youth compared with one in thirty Caucasian kids. The yearly drug consumption costs in Baltimore total approximately $16 billion, making our city a hotbed for drug raids and high rates of incarceration.

These are all facts that I learned during the Social Determinants of Health Symposium on Squandered Resources: Incarceration – Its Consequences, Costs and Alternatives, which was convened by the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute on April 28th. Speakers examined the reality of incarceration in America and provided promising solutions for prevention, community re-entry and lessening recidivism.

Português: Uma cela moderna em Brecksville Pol...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the symposium, speakers framed the prison industrial complex as a big business that has expanded in the past forty years to house a multitude of individuals – many of whom have not committed serious offenses and/or have mental health issues. The prison population in America is disproportionately poor and African American, perpetuating the shameful history of racial discrimination and disenfranchisement in the U.S.

Experts explained that as more jails are built, more people are isolated behind their walls, waiting only for a day when they are sent back to their neighborhoods with the expectation to obtain gainful employment (which is difficult – if not impossible – due to job application forms that require applicants to disclose whether they have committed a felony). Oftentimes, these individuals end up back in jail due to lack of opportunity and support services.

Clearly, the social and economic factors that lead individuals on a path toward prison must be addressed in order to build individual and community wellness.

One of the solutions outlined during the symposium is preventing incarceration in the first place. This can be done through (1) interventions with community members and (2) altering correctional practices.

It was suggested that nonprofits and service providers follow the police and identify the same neighborhoods and people that are being targeted for arrests … then, work within those systems to build stronger safety nets, effectively tailor strategies, and set up alternative programs for income generation that may include education and job training.

At the same time, police can alter their practices by interacting with community members and seeking to divert criminal behaviors rather than laying wait to throw people in jail. Although the “stop and frisk” policy in New York City is invasive and creates barriers between the police and community members, the other diversionary practices that police have adopted in New York are promising and have led to only 400 arrests within a city of 8 million over the past year. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are another promising strategy to address criminal offenses without throwing every offender in jail. Speakers defined this reversal of incarceration as “decarceration.”

Another tactic that was addressed during the symposium was easing community re-entry and ensuring that formerly incarcerated individuals don’t re-offend. A main point of discussion here is the need for job training and placement to ensure that these transitioning community members are able to effectively contribute to society, while providing them with mental health and addiction treatment services as necessary.

“Ban the box” bills, such as the one that Baltimore City Council passed on April 28th, are a step in the right direction – ensuring that employers are not allowed to ask applicants about their criminal past until they have made them a conditional offer. This ensures that formerly incarcerated citizens are given a fighting chance to succeed in the job market.

By applying these promising practices, we may be able to reserve prison for the small percentage of people who really do need to be behind bars, and help formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into their communities as productive and successful members of society.

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Racism is a Public Health Issue

Los Angeles Clippers logo (1984–2010)

Los Angeles Clippers logo (1984–2010) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that the NBA Commissioner announced that in addition to a lifetime ban from any business with the Los Angeles Clippers and $2.5 million fine, he is pushing to force current owner, Donald Sterling, to sell the team over his racist remarks.

When the news broke a few weeks ago, besides thinking that it was incredulous that Donald Sterling actually believes that his comments were not racist, the other immediate thought that crossed my mind was:

I feel sorry for the L.A. Clippers team who have to feign business as usual and go to work knowing that the world now knows how their employer regards them. 

I am sure that when the Clippers played the next game, the stress of having the spotlight on them for such a negative reason was not only disheartening but also affected how they were able to perform.  To me, it is no coincidence that they lost the game that they played just a day after the Sterling recording surfaced and won the game that they played just hours after the NBA Commissioner ousted Donald Sterling – the source of their stress.

Why am I mentioning Donald Sterling’s racism in the context of a blog dedicated to promoting health equity?

Because, racism is a public health issue.

In the article “Why Racism is a Public Health Issue,” author Tara Culp-Ressler refers to research data and studies that show that African-American teens who experience racial discrimination in adolescence were more likely to have higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones once they turned twenty.

Stress alone is harmful because it breaks down the body, but stress caused by discrimination disproportionately affects minorities and often pushes individuals to respond in unhealthy ways. The psychological toll that racism takes on adults has also been well-documented.

Nancy Krieger, a social epidemiologist, is among a growing number of public health scholars that are adding to the literature on how racial discrimination raises the risk of many emotional, physical, and mental problems.  She coined the term embodied inequality to explain this reality.

Racial bias exacerbates disparities in access to health care.

Two years ago, a study  found that about two-thirds of primary care doctors harbor biases toward their African-American patients, leading those doctors to spend less time with their African-American patients and involve them less in medical decisions.  This creates a situation in which African-Americans will shy away from seeking treatment that they need.  Coupled with the fact that disparities in access to preventive health care continues to be a major problem in communities of color, racial bias towards minorities will further create this divide.

I hope that it is now clear that racism has plenty to do with health and wellness.  It increases health disparities and decreases the well-being of those who are discriminated against due to the biases of others.

What can we do individually and as a society to address racism and discrimination and ensure that neither are negatively correlated with health and wellness?

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Summer is Coming to Baltimore…Take Advantage of These Fun (and Healthy) Things to Do!

Summer is coming, and the WellPower Blog Team would like to suggest some free or low-cost ways to get involved in the community and stay healthy!

English: The Baltimore Rock Opera Society's &q...

English: The Baltimore Rock Opera Society’s “Brothership”, a converted 1988 Saab 900, which first premiered at Artscape in Baltimore, Maryland, July 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Go to Artscape

From July 18-20 go to “America’s Largest Free Arts Festival.” Here you will find magnificent exhibits, designers, artists, film, and a packed tight schedule of live concerts, dance, theatre and so on. You don’t want to miss it!

Volunteer at Velocipede Bike Project

Volunteer on Sundays at Velocipede, a non-profit focused on helping people to “acquire bicycles to benefit their lives.” Meet new friends and learn all about bikes as you polish up your new skills. Then, on your own time you can use Velocipede’s extra bike parts to make a bike of your own!

Go to Single Carrot Theatre

Expand your mind at Single Carrot Theatre. See a show, or sign up to volunteer and have a chance to interact with some of these talented and interesting people. Information on when different volunteer opportunities arise can be found here.

Have a picnic

Pick up some healthy organic snacks-Ok Natural Food Store is a great option (and it’s not just because of their Polydactyl cat). The charming store is packed with a great variety of natural foods, vitamins, and supplements that keep you healthy and happy. Then grab a blanket and head to Patterson Park…the “Best Back Yard of Baltimore,” for a relaxing, outdoor afternoon.

Go to Crystals, Candles & Cauldrons

Visit this eclectic, New Age store filled with essential oils, crystals, candles, and stones. Have your fortune read for fun! I’ll be aiming for health and longevity.

Volunteer at the Whitelock Community Farm

Volunteer at the Whitelock Community Farm. You can volunteer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9am-1pm. After your hard work you are rewarded with fresh produce. Don’t forget to say hello to a fellow volunteer Michelle Geiss, our friend from the socent hustle event. (She’s the one who told us about this hidden gem)

Sign up for the Baltimore Running Festival

Consider running for a cause when you sign up. All causes can be found here. Race day is October 18th, so take advantage of training in the nice weather!

Visit Fort McHenry

Be sure to check the Schedule of Events before you arrive. If you’re a nature lover, you can jump on the Saturday Monitoring Bird walk.

 

More ideas can be found here.

 

We would love to know what you enjoy doing during the summer time in Baltimore. Please comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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