BALTIMORE—As the Open Society Institute-Baltimore celebrates its tenth anniversary, two new major gifts put the institute more than halfway toward its $20 million goal in its development campaign, OSI officials announced today.
Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, the nonprofit overseeing the Baltimore Empowerment Zone Program, which uses federal funding to create safe, healthy neighborhoods and economically self-sufficient residents, is awarding OSI-Baltimore $2.5 million to support services for residents who have criminal records or those who are drug dependent. In addition, an anonymous individual donor who supports OSI-Baltimore's initiatives to improve city schools gave $1 million. "Since we launched this campaign three years ago, OSI-Baltimore has received many generous investments, small and large," said Marilynn Duker, chair of OSI-Baltimore's board. "These two new additional gifts help ensure that the positive results OSI-Baltimore has achieved over the past decade will become lasting solutions for the future."
The new gifts, which bring OSI-Baltimore to the $10.2 million mark, come as the foundation celebrates ten years of making a difference in the city with an evening event on May 13. The event will feature remarks by OSI founder George Soros, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon and keynote speaker Newark Mayor Cory Booker. It will be held at Silo Point, a former grain silo-turned-condo development on the Baltimore waterfront.
At the event, Soros will present "Audacious Individual" awards to three people who have acted boldly with spirited, original ideas to improve the lives of Baltimore's underserved populations. The recipients are:
- Andres Alonso, who took over Baltimore City public schools in July 2007 as CEO and since has moved rapidly to create new schools, downsize the central office and to give school principals more autonomy and budgetary control in exchange for increased accountability for student results. He has come down forcefully against violence in the schools and, as forcefully, against excessive, unnecessary school suspensions that disconnect children from school.
- Carlos Hardy, executive director of the Maryland Affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, who works to ensure that people grappling with addiction have access to comprehensive treatment. With more than 14 years of experience working in the addiction field as an advocate and activist, he recognizes that the system must listen to different voices and has created relationships so this may happen. He passionately raises public awareness about alcoholism and drug addiction through an extensive advocacy and education campaign.
- Jacqueline Robarge, a 2002 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow, is the director and founder of Power Inside, a nonprofit that addresses the serious, unmet needs of women detained in or recently released from the Baltimore City Detention Center, especially those tackling drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. Recognizing that drug addiction is a public health crisis best addressed by treatment, not by incarceration, Power Inside provides group counseling and re-entry and aftercare services, including referrals to drug treatment, to about 300 women a year. Robarge and Power Inside also advocate for policy changes to improve services for women during and after their release from jail.
"These three people share important qualities: They have the courage and passion to act on their bold ideas," said Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore. "And Baltimore is much better for it."
In 1998, Soros opened the Baltimore office of his Open Society Institute as a laboratory for better understanding and unraveling complex urban problems. Since then, he has invested $60 million to fund an array of programs that tackle some of Baltimore's most difficult problems. In 2005, Soros pledged to give the institute $10 million if it could raise another $20 million over five years from the community to continue the foundation's work. Since then, the institute has recruited new donors and civic leaders who share OSI's goal of creating lasting change and opportunity for all residents.
Over the past 10 years, OSI-Baltimore has made a difference in the city by:
- Nurturing a group of nearly 100 committed social entrepreneurs whose work focuses on the city's most vulnerable citizens through the Baltimore Community Fellowship program.
- Leading a critical initiative to create awareness of students being pushed out of school and then offering alternatives to suspension and expulsion to improve student attendance in Baltimore schools. OSI is working with Baltimore City Public School System to revise system's discipline code so that harsh disciplinary practices are used less frequently.
- Supporting major initiatives to keep more than 20,000 Baltimore students engaged after school in high-quality learning and enrichment programs—the best drug prevention program known.
- Supporting significant expansion for summer programs for more than 25,000 city children annually, keeping students engaged in learning and in safe, supervised environments and reducing learning loss.
- Launching the Baltimore Urban Debate League, which began with 90 students from eight public high schools and today engages more than 1,000 students from more than 60 middle and high schools. More than 90 percent go on to college—a stark contrast to the city average.
- Supporting the launch of a news department for WYPR, Baltimore's public radio affiliate, to feature local broadcasts that add more critical analysis and depth to local news coverage.
- Working closely with the Maryland Parole Commission and the Department of Safety to rewrite the state's parole guidelines so that prisoners are safely and appropriately released earlier resulting in reduced incarceration costs.
- Leading efforts to provide services to help ex-prisoners make smoother transitions upon their release and provide them with transitional housing, addiction treatment, mental health care and job training so that they are less likely to recidivate.
- Spearheading a city-wide effort to promote the use of buprenorphine, an FDA-approved therapy for heroin addiction that can be prescribed in doctors' offices and taken at home, by increasing the number of doctors trained to prescribe it and patients able to receive treatment.
- Helping to increase funding for drug addiction treatment by 156 percent, putting 44 percent more residents into drug addiction treatment since 1998. During this period, property crime decreased by 43 percent, and overdose deaths and new HIV cases declined.
As OSI-Baltimore moves forward, it is pursuing four main objectives:
- Increasing access to high-quality drug treatment to achieve a "tipping point" where 75 percent Baltimore's drug-dependent population is in treatment.
- Increasing public high school graduation rates from 59 percent in 2004-05 to the state average of 80 percent.
- Decreasing incarceration and recidivism while protecting public safety by reducing the number of people entering and returning to prison by 5 percent.
- Populating Baltimore's struggling communities with a strong network of proven, social entrepreneurs by awarding up to 10 Community Fellowships per year.