The Fourth of July got off to an early festive start at the J. Van Story Branch Apartments, located in Baltimore, thanks to the efforts of Brenda Cousar. She serves as the building’s tenant council board president. On Friday, July 1, 2022, hamburgers, and hotdogs were already sizzling on the grill before the holiday. The building’s residents were treated to a cookout complete with plenty of food, fun, and fellowship.

Residents were served grilled food,
salad, and beverages.

The cookout was just one of several events held at J. Van Story Branch Apartments because of Cousar’s thoughtful efforts. Known as “The Mayor of the Building,” Cousar is a 24-year J. Van Story Branch Apartments resident. Located at 11 W. 20th Street in the Charles North Neighborhood, the J. Van Story Branch Apartments offers affordable rental apartments for senior and non-elderly disabled residents.

“I do things from the heart,” said Cousar. “We have to work together, and I’ve got good people backing me. When you have good people behind you, you can do anything. I love doing things here for the residents. It’s all about them.”

Cousar affectionately calls everyone “Sweets,” but to those who know her work, her own efforts at the apartments are as sweet as they come.

“I’ll be 82 (years old), and I have lived here for 22 years,” said Catherine Hartfield. “Miss Cousar always gives nice events and is always trying to bring everyone together to enjoy themselves.”

Catherine Hartfield and Sarah Matthews during the event.

Stephanie Banks works at the building and attended the event.

“I’m really happy to celebrate the Fourth of July with everyone here in the building,” said Banks.  “This event is important because the residents can get out and enjoy themselves. Some are alone in their apartments, so it’s nice for them to come down and enjoy something positive.”

Charity Ashe—an employee of Oasis Health—reminded that residents, including Cousar, are both nice and kind. Events such as what Cousar organized is “important because they uplift the community and create a sense of togetherness.”  

Cousar also coordinates Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holiday events.

“Miss Brenda is a lovely lady,” said Kim Ball, who also resides in the building. “She helps everybody in the building. She also gives us things we need and enjoy.”

As he manned the grill, Keith Wonson talked about Cousar and the other residents. He works as the building’s service manager.

Keith Wonson cooks food on the grill as he talks to another building employee.

“We want to show them we appreciate them,” said Wonson. “Without them, we wouldn’t have a job. We try to help Ms. Brenda and the others who live here as much as we can.”

Diane McElveen is the building’s resident service coordinator who was busy handing out plates of food.

“We came out to help, enjoy the residents, and celebrate the Fourth of July,” said McElveen. “This is another way of helping to serve the residents.”

Avonte McCullough, who also helped serve food added, “We love Ms. Brenda. Anytime we need her she is always there, and we are there whenever she needs us. Events like this are a great way to support the tenant council and the residents.”

David Hamilton is part of the building’s maintenance staff who credited Cousar for always being “on the job.”

“If it wasn’t for Ms. Brenda, we wouldn’t be having all of this,” he said. “Whenever you need her, she is always there. She is always on the job. If you can’t find Ms. Brenda, you aren’t looking.”

Deondre McCoy, 23, is the building’s maintenance technician who said that he loves what he has been doing at the apartments since he was 19 years old.

Ivan Bates, managing partner of the law firm Bates and Garcia, LLC attended the event.

Ivan Bates, Democratic candidate for Baltimore City State’s Attorney, greets a resident as Tenant Council Board President Brenda Cousar looks on.

“I came to Baltimore in 1995 to take care of my aunt who lived in this building,” said Bates, who is a Democratic candidate for Baltimore City State’s Attorney. “She passed (away) five years ago. Although my aunt’s not here, I still come through when I can. I want them to know I am here for them.”

Sarah Matthews, who is the Older Adult Coordinator for the Ivan Bates campaign, added that supporting older adults is important.

“Some people consider older adults a liability as opposed to us being an asset because of our vast experience in the community. When you find someone doing work inside an older adult building to help the older population, that is very important. That is why I am here to support Ms. Brenda and the rest of those who are helping here today,” said Matthews.

Ursula V. Battle
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