It started as a place to get coffee and a little help for those in need. Coffee became a meal, a storefront became a soup kitchen. As more businesses left the neighborhood, the needs became greater, and My Brother’s Keeper grew to answer the call.
Starting in the early 1980s, as pastors in Irvington responded to the decline in the Baltimore economy with basic services, to today, with a wide range of social services, My Brother’s Keeper has served the Irvington community.
Reverend Diane Wagner, Father Rick Frechette, C.P., Richard Brown-Whale, Vernon Schultheis, Father Gregory and St. Joseph’s Monastery were instrumental in operating the institution in the early years. The Daughters of Charity played a vital role in the life of My Brother’s Keeper, with Sister Rosalie the first sister to be missioned to MBK. This commitment by the Daughters of Charity was a blessing that would bring the many devoted Sisters to direct the ministry. After Sister Rosalie, the sisters who followed were Sister Judith, Sister Elizabeth, Sister Joann, Sister Patricia Ann, a brief return of Sister Elizabeth, and Sister Carol.
In the late 90’s, with the arrival of Sister Mary Louise Zollars, My Brother’s Keeper expanded its ministry. Sister Mary Louise, a licensed social worker, came with a wealth of experience, including work at Beans and Bread in Fells Point.
During this time the board of directors consisted of the local pastors and their delegates. These men and women provided leadership in engaging the wider community in re-invigorating the Irvington community. Among them was Father Mike Murphy, who had grown up in Irvington and knew that his friends, although spread throughout the wider Baltimore region, still had strong feelings about their home neighborhood.
The board’s vision was that My Brother’s Keeper would become a key to the revitalization of the Irvington neighborhood. With this expanded purpose MBK would do more than serve food to the hungry and provide social services to the poor of the neighborhood. The neighborhood would be encouraged to transform itself by engaging its native sons and daughters.
In time it became obvious that a new board had to be formed to meet the needs of the ever-growing ministry of MBK. Father Mike sought out men and women with courage, energy, good contacts and resources.
Blase Cooke and his family and friends, having such fondness for their old neighborhood, were ready to help. They provided a significant amount of seed money and funds of over $600,000 were raised at the first meeting banquet. A building site was bought at the corner of Augusta and Fredrick Road and architectural plans were made for a building that would better serve the poor while also inspiring neighborhood change.
The J.P. Blase Cooke Building
The Blase Cooke center is only a few steps from our original site, but a leap ahead in progress. The center welcomes guests with a bright, airy gathering space where hot coffee and donuts are served and fellowship is shared. It houses a fully equipped kitchen and dining area for our meal program and has offices for an expanded staff that includes our director, developer, social worker, and workforce agent. There is a small health suite, access to computers and space for support group meetings, and more.
About Blase Cooke
J.P. Blase Cooke was born and raised in the Irvington community. Blase learned responsibility for others early, when the death of his father when Blase was 12 left him the responsibility of looking after his four younger siblings. As a teenager he took a series of jobs to help with the family’s expenses.
After two years serving in the U.S. Army as an M.P., Blase joined Thomas P. Harkins, Inc. as a laborer earning $3 an hour. The year was 1968, and Blase was just 21. Through hard work, he steadily rose through the company, becoming a manager in two years and a vice president less than a decade later. By 1993, he was CEO and owner. Memories of his youth provided him all the motivation he needed to excel: “I didn’t want my family growing up eating mustard sandwiches.”
Nor, Blase believed, should any other family. Blase’s commitment to the less fortunate was exceptionally generous, with his leadership guiding many charitable organizations. His hand steered commissions, directed panels, and piloted elected officials and advocacy groups toward strong partnerships. He was a devoted husband, father, and parishioner, having served on the board of his archdiocese. In every endeavor, his character, common sense, sound judgment, and willingness to strive have made him an exemplary friend, citizen, and inspiration. Truly, Blase was always his brother’s keeper and a model for all of us.