The Transformation Center: A Beacon in Brooklyn
Brooklyn, the most southern part of Baltimore City, like many blue-collar communities, has had a tradition of hard workers, established homes, and strong families. Still, the opioid epidemic, crime, and poverty have ravished much of this area. People who are homeless walk the streets, the sound of gunshots is not unusual, and prostitution is ongoing. The community needs hope, and God is using a refurbished, repurposed church building, and people committed to Him to bring light into the darkness. A ministry of Streetlite Christian Fellowship (SCF), The Transformation Center (TC) is a beacon of hope for many, offering sustenance, support, and life.
The Center is the culmination of a work and vision that started many decades ago. Brian Zimmerman, the pastor of SCF was ecstatic in 2014 when the center officially opened with fanfare. Jimmy Draper, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and Lifeway Christian Resources president emeritus, was the special guest for the ribbon-cutting service. Draper and Zimmerman had previously served together at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. Draper said, “What we celebrate today is when the past meets the future. And God knew how it was going to come together.”
Now, eight years later, “what God has wrought” on Fourth Street is amazing. They provide food — produce, and hygiene products in a farmer’s market-type venue. They have given away over a quarter of a million diapers, and they provide dog and cat food for 350 pets a month, as well as animal vaccine clinics. Also, a Medstar Mobile Clinic visits every Tuesday for free primary care and Covid management. They provide backpacks with school supplies for children. A homeless ministry that had to stop due to Covid will be relaunched in the winter. These are just a few of the ways TC shows the love of Jesus to the community.
TC also partners with local schools. One nearby school needed extra room, and Baltimore City Schools leased space at TC for the school’s entire eighth grade, thus utilizing all of the center’s classroom spaces. In response to the new opportunity, TC hired a “Next Gen Leader,” Olivia Dean, to expand their after-school program to three days. It has a wrap-around focus, including academic tutoring, arts, STEM activities, gaming, and computer skills.
The Transformation Center’s newest program, TC Prints, is a screen printing business that has everyone at the center excited about the possibilities. The project is designed to provide work skills and mentoring for former prison inmates.
Robert “Reds” Thomas manages the program, and Mallory says he was a perfect choice. TC Prints was designed with Reds in mind.
Sharing his story, Reds says, “My history is 25 years of active drug abuse and all that comes with it. I burned bridges with my family and friends and was in and out of rehab. And then I walked into the doors of Streetlite, and I’ve been clean since.”
On November 16, Reds will have been drug-free for 18 years. He says, “I wanted to tell as many people as possible what God did for me.”. Being at TC is giving him that opportunity. “I used to run around this neighborhood. Some of my family still gets high around here, and my friends are in recovery houses.” Some of those family members and friends stop by TC, and Reds is happy to be able to share with them when able. “This (TC) was an amazing acquirement for the church, and I wanted to be here and be a part of whatever was going on as much as possible.
“There’s a saying in recovery that you can’t keep what you have unless you give it away. I believe that in my spiritual and recovery journey.”
Mallory and Reds were eager to get TC Prints off the ground, but first, they had to learn how to use the screening equipment. Both laugh and roll their eyes now when they talk about what a daunting challenge that turned out to be. Mallory says, “it looks easy, but it’s hard! We watched lots of youtube videos and learned best practices.” And, of course, there were a lot of trials and a lot of errors. But it all paid off. They set up the machine and prepared, tested, and experimented through 2020; the grand opening was in January 2020. A young man named Matt, fresh out of prison was their first employee in March 2021.
“Matt was shy, and the first few weeks, even months, it was hard to draw him out. It’s cool to see him now. He’s flourished, communicates well, and has taken a leadership role,” says Mallory.
Matt says in a laid-back, friendly manner, “I had no experience with screen printing. At first, it was intimidating. There’s so much that goes into this business. But having good leaders shows you that anything is possible. Now we’re growing. It’s about relationships. It truly has been a blessing.
“Spiritually, I’m not perfect, but no one is. Being able to have someone who has gone through the same walk and who has been in recovery for 18 years, been in prison — who’s been where I’ve been, and is sharing the experience, wisdom, and advice is so helpful. I’m very grateful.”
TC Prints has taken off and has had multiple orders from The North American Mission Board, local churches, and Baltimore small businesses.
Past, Present, and Future — Coming Full Circle
TC stands on the shoulders of so many faithful saints and prayers. In addition to the many who labored at the old Methodist building where TC currently operates, there is a strong Southern Baptist history. It goes back to The Mallory Center, named after Katherine Mallory, a contemporary of Annie Armstrong and the longest-serving executive of the Woman’s Missionary Union.
The Mallory Center, near Locust Point, served local immigrants, women, and children. Leaders taught English and provided needed supplies, and, of course, shared Jesus. As time progressed, they focused more on compassion ministries such as food, clothing, and hygiene items and various programs for children and adults. They had Bible studies and worship services and ministered one-on-one. From 1966-1979 James Brinkley managed the center with his wife, Mary, and their children.
During that time, a young Brian Zimmerman played basketball at the center and was taken with the young, blonde, and beautiful Carol Brinkley. Carol and her family cared for Brian and showed him the love of Jesus. Carol’s parents allowed her to do some “missionary dating” with Brian with the hopes that it would lead him to Jesus. Carol often says that they don’t recommend it, “but it worked for us!”
Zimmerman began attending the services with Carol at Lee Street Memorial Baptist (now Jesus Our Redeemer) and was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and gave himself completely over to Jesus. Brian and Carol eventually married. They eventually began serving at a church in Texas.
The Mallory Center eventually closed in 1989, and the building was vacant. At the same time, Brian and Carol were seeking a place to birth a new ministry in Baltimore to teens. They came back to the city to pray about where to launch the ministry, and God led them to the Mallory Center, owned by NAMB. Brian and Carol inquired about the potential of using the Mallory Center for the ministry they felt God was calling them to. Initially, NAMB representatives told the couple it was unavailable; NAMB was considering selling the property. But they reconsidered, and NAMB made an agreement to allow the Zimmermans to use the property.
Brian continues the story, “We started our new ministry at the Mallory Center in the gym, where I once played ball. Over 130 teens came to that first event, and over 70 of those kids became regular attendees. In the next five years, we saw over 500 kids come to know Jesus. Carol and I had come full circle and not only birthed a new and vibrant ministry, but we also realized a wish we had made back when we were teens. We told each other, ‘If we ever get married and have a daughter, we should name her ‘Mallory’ after the Mallory Center. Well, in 1993, while getting our new ministry at the Mallory Center off the ground, we, in fact, had a daughter, and we named her Mallory.”
Brian says Mallory and her brother Brian Jr. both became very involved with the ministry. Brian Sr. and Carol believe their children’s involvement in the Transformation Center has shaped their lives. Both serve in ministry today — Mallory at the Transformation Center, and Brian Jr. is on staff at Passion City Ministries in Atlanta.
Looking to the future, Mallory says the Transformation Center staff wants to meet the needs of the community and will pivot as needed. For example, during the diaper distribution, Mallory discovered that 90% of the community is Spanish speaking. She says, “our goal is to create more programming around these families, That includes starting a future English as a Second Language program.
As God leads, Brian and Mallory will continue to oversee the center, trusting the Holy Spirit to make them aware of the community’s needs and discerning how to meet those needs — as did their parents, inlaws, and grandparents before them.
Watch the video below to see Reds share a little of his. personal testimony.
Sharon Mager serves as a communications specialist and BaptistLIFE editor.