Half a Century of Service By: Terry Callahan

The Neighborhood Service Center, Inc. (NSC) has provided aid and services for low-income residents since 1969 when it was begun by a group of concerned Talbot County citizens and activists, including the Talbot County Council and the Town Creek Foundation. Fifty years later, the NSC’s mission, “Works Toward Eliminating Poverty By Empowering Families To Be Self-Sufficient” is still relevant. First housed inside the Borden-Stanley Building on Goldsborough Street, the NSC later was able to build its facility on Port Street with the Talbot County Council’s support of a Community Development Block Grant. Under the leadership of the late Herbert Andrews, the Council designated the NSC as the county’s anti-poverty agency.

Executive Director Marilyn Neal explained why the Center is so important to the community. “It’s important because it is an agency that helps sustain self-sufficiency. For many it’s a lifeline. It has become a place where people can go; the community has built trust in the NSC because a person in need of assistance is not trusting on many levels.” Through their partnership with other community resources, the NSC staff can help people get their needs met. “The NSC is here to fill the gaps; when other assistance has stopped, we’re still here.”

In its earliest years the NSC provided services focused on energy assistance and a summer program for children, along with a food bank. A variety of services have been added over time, including the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, the Youth After School Program, and Webb’s Hope, donated by Easton resident Gregory Webb, is a low-rental property that provides not just affordable housing but also a sense of security and belonging.

The resources and services the NSC provides are in demand year-round. Many are emergency services. Housing needs address evictions, first month’s rent, security deposit and utility disconnect prevention. For twenty years, the NSC has run the Ridgeway Transitional Center, a six-bed shelter which was the first shelter in Talbot County and the only one until the Talbot Interfaith Shelter was opened. Transportation needs often focus on the client’s having a safe, fueled vehicle to be able to get to work. Medical issues include eyeglasses and senior co-pays for medication.

The NSC also administers the Rapid Rehousing program. “It moves unsheltered people into housing. It has been very successful for us. Last year eleven households participated in the program, and nine of those households are still here. That speaks to a lot.”

Continuing its mission of helping those in need, the NSC has just partnered with Talbot County on a homeless initiative grant that purchased property at 6 South Street in Easton. “It has two one-bed apartments, one two-bed apartment, and can house four to eight individuals,” says Marilyn. “It will be unique because it will look at the household’s net income instead of its gross income.”

Marilyn’s passion to help people goes back to her childhood. “As a child I was always running around the neighborhood helping older people.” She would even give them money for gas if need be. “My dad would say, ‘That’s her calling; she’s never going to stop it’.”  And she hasn’t. She says, “Helping make a positive change in their lives is what makes the job exciting.”

Another area in which there has been change has been in the perception of the NSC and those it serves. “In the past the community had looked at NSC clients as a group of individuals that were standing around waiting for a handout. But today people look at a group of people that are working every day, that are striving to take care of themselves and their families and just need a hand up. And the reason for needing that hand up could be that Mom stayed home and missed a day from work to take care of a sick child or was sick herself and that lost day’s pay brought them to the doors of NSC for services. It just makes you feel good to change a life and we change a life every day.”

The most pressing current need is monetary support from the community. “No dollar amount is too small. I would like to see the NSC have an endowment that would give me hope that the agency will continue. I know the end of poverty is a long way down the road.”

For more information on the NSC’s programs, visit the website at www.nsctalbotmd.org. You can also contact the center (410) 822-5015 or stop by 126 Port Street to schedule a visit or tour of the facility.