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From GoFundMe To Grant: West Baltimore's Kids Safe Zone Gets Big Check

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Before the smoke even cleared after the riots in West Baltimore, there were promises to help the community rebuild and move forward.

More help toward that goal arrived today at the Penn North Kids Safe Zone, WJZ's Mike Schuh reports.

Ericka Alston-Buck opened the center shortly after the riots. With worldwide attention on Baltimore, she heard a call to action.

"When everyone was on national TV saying the problem in this area was no recreation centers and nowhere for the kids to go, I turned to my executive director and said 'Why can't we be the place for the kids to go?,'" she said in an interview with WJZ in 2015.

It was an immediate success, and these days 60 to 100 kids per day rely on the safe space.

They've even expanded since the launch of the program.

Monday morning, a congressman, Baltimore's new mayor, the city council president and a big company arrived with checks - including a $50,000 contribution to Penn North for recovery services.

That's a huge step forward for a non-profit that previously relied on a GoFundMe page to stay open.

"It's working because I think when other people were having meetings about what they should do, we did it," Alston-Buck told WJZ today.

Alston is still the driving force at the center, and has been promoted to CEO of Penn North, which is trying to address the many problems found right outside their door.

"For generations this community has been ignored and unheard, we finally got a stage and it's my job to make sure we continue to be heard and seen," she says.

In addition to the $50,000 given to the kids Safe Zone, Carefirst also gave more than $500,000 to four other organizations doing work in West Baltimore.

Alston says the money given to her organization will go directly into its operating budget to keep them in the black.

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