The formidable network of Community Fellows – more than 125 activists strong – is working in diverse and inspiring ways to change and improve Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities. This new set of grants will help many of them take their projects and nonprofits to the next level.
BALTIMORE—OSI-Baltimore created the Baltimore Community Fellowships program in 1998 to identify and support unsung innovators working in the city’s most underserved areas. OSI-Baltimore believed, and continues to believe, that by providing these social entrepreneurs with the tools to get their ideas off the ground, their grassroots projects will help improve the lives of Baltimore’s most vulnerable populations, and the fellows would lead the city into the future.
Now, 14 years later, the fellows have grown from a small group of creative thinkers into a thriving and formidable network of more than 125 activists, many of whom collaborate to make their projects even more robust. Most are still working in Baltimore communities and have seen their projects bloom and flourish in ways no one could have imagined.
To continue the progression, OSI-Baltimore has for the first time awarded 10 former fellows competitive Community Fellowships Alumni Capacity Building & Technical Assistance Grants. The grants, of up to $25,000 each and totaling $193,200, are intended to strengthen the efforts of fellows whose work has been particularly effective.
“We are happy to have provided the initial investment in these fellows. Now we want to help them take the next steps at a critical moment in their evolution,” says OSI-Baltimore Director Diana Morris. “We recognize that this group represents a hugely important pool of talent for the city. We want to give them an additional boost, to strengthen these organizations and get them to the next level of being robust and economically stable.”
One recipient, the Incentive Mentoring Program, which 2009 fellow Sarah Hemminger launched in 2004 while she was a graduate student, has had enormous success in helping profoundly disadvantaged and underperforming high school students.
“We’ve retained 100 percent of the students, and 100 percent have graduated from high school or received a GED,” Hemminger says, adding that “100 percent have been accepted to college, and 97 percent have matriculated.”
The Incentive Mentoring Program is poised to become a national model for transforming high school students who are struggling in and out of school into academically successful, self-motivated, resourceful and socially aware leaders.
OSI-Baltimore awarded her a grant to coordinate an extensive program evaluation and revamp an internal tracking system that supports mentors, volunteers and students —with the goal of making the successful program even better.
2010 fellow Jessica Turral, another award recipient, founded Hand in Hand Baltimore to reduce recidivism rates among boys who are charged as adults for crimes, by offering them new opportunities through academic and mental health services, employment and personal support.
Since 2009, the program has served 140 young men — 90 inside the Baltimore City Detention Center and 50 in the community. Of the latter group, 85 percent have not re-offended, 50 percent are employed and 90 percent have remained in their educational programs.
Turral plans to use the OSI-Baltimore grant to expand the re-entry services her organization provides to youth charged as adults. Hand in Hand will hire a full-time “re-entry coordinator” to help bridge its pre-release and re-entry program by recruiting volunteers, helping to keep better track of youth after they’re released, and identifying jobs or educational opportunities for youth, among other things.
Eventually, Turral would like to see a Hand in Hand program in every major city in the country.
“In Maryland we charge 1,250 youth as adults each year. And nationwide there are 200,000,” she says. “There are a lot of kids out there who are really struggling, and there are very few programs willing to work with them.”
To qualify for a grant, organizations must have been established by an Alumni Community Fellow and continue to be under the direction of that person, as a staff or board member. The organization had to be financially stable, with solid leadership and the potential for growth, as evidenced, for example, by program effectiveness, increased membership, expansion of services, infrastructure development, an expanding financial base, strategic community partnerships and working relationships with key public agencies and officials.
“Each one of the funded programs is at a moment when fellows are going from the ‘I’ to the ‘we,’” says Pamela King, who has served as director of the Community Fellowships program since its inception. “Initiatives are beginning to have more of an organization focus. Fellows now know the kinds of things they need to put in place to solidify their infrastructure. With this shot in the arm, they’ll have a better chance of ensuring that their projects will have some degree of sustainability and impact.”
The award-winning Alumni Community Fellows are:
- Rebecca Coleman, 2010
- Janet Felsten, 1998
- Sarah Hemminger, 2009
- Dwayne Hess, 2009
- Patrice Hutton, 2008
- Shantel Randolph, 2007
- Jessica Turral, 2010
- Emery (Tre Subira) Whitlow, 2009
- Rebecca Yenawine, 1999
- Christina A. Youngston, 2005
OSI-Baltimore was started in 1998 by philanthropist George Soros as a laboratory to better understand and solve the most intractable problems facing urban America. OSI-Baltimore is a private operating foundation that focuses its work exclusively on the root causes of three intertwined problems: drug addiction, an overreliance on incarceration, and the obstacles that keep youth from succeeding both inside and outside the classroom. OSI-Baltimore also sponsors the Baltimore Community Fellows, now more than 100 members strong, who work to create opportunity and bring justice to people in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.