Editors' note: Names and projects for the new Baltimore Community Fellows can be found at the end of this release.
BALTIMORE—A Native American woman will use art to connect youth in the local Native American community to the Baltimore American Indian Center and to their own culture. A physical trainer will train 12 young people to work as fitness professionals, and teach them to influence their peers to live a healthy lifestyle. And a woman who once spent time in prison will comb the streets of West Baltimore to connect prostitutes, drug abusers, homeless women, and women with HIV to services and solutions.
These are just three of the eight people the Open Society Institute-Baltimore selected to be 2008 Baltimore Community Fellows, as the program celebrates its 11th year of supporting social entrepreneurs and innovators to achieve their dreams to improve the city.
Each of this year's fellows will receive $48,750 to work full-time for 18 months, implementing creative strategies to assist underserved communities in Baltimore. This year's new class brings the total number of Baltimore Community Fellows to 102—many of whom still are actively working in the city, continuing to bring their energy and ideas to effect social change.
From their proposed projects to their personal stories, the Class of 2008 is one of the most diverse in the history of the grant program. Fellows will take on a wide variety of projects, including a health and nutrition awareness initiative that will help educate low-income residents in Southwest Baltimore on how to access nutritional food, an interfaith garden art project that gives elementary school students a nature-inspired place to play chess, and an after-school and summer series of creative writing workshops for students at Margaret Brent Elementary School.
One fellow, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, will develop an after-school art program at the Baltimore American Indian center, focusing on the city's Native American youth population, their culture, connectedness, and concerns. Another will create an advocacy and support system to fight the kinds of discrimination that plague many in Baltimore's transgender community, particularly when it comes to housing, employment, and treatment by law enforcement officials.
"Our new fellows are dynamic and committed social activists, each with an innovative vision for bringing opportunity and greater justice to Baltimore's neighborhoods so that all residents can participate fully in community life," said OSI-Baltimore director Diana Morris. "With this 11th class, we now have a corps of talented community fellows that numbers over 100. Working across issues and neighborhoods, these fellows are bringing hope, new approaches, resources and advocacy skills to residents throughout the city, mobilizing them to take action to meet their own needs and to revitalize Baltimore communities."
Fellow Shirell Tyner, 43, who spent three years in prison, will help women most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS by seeking out those who are difficult to reach—ex-offenders, substance abusers, prostitutes, and the homeless—and connecting them to programs and services that can change their lives.
"I can relate to their life because I used to be where they are. I was out in the streets. I was homeless... Now I give back to the population that I come from," said Tyner, who currently runs a nonprofit, Caring Through the Spiritual Eye.
Fellow Jon A. Kaplan, 46, was voted 2008's Best Personal Trainer by Baltimore magazine, and now wants to train a much broader population to be healthy and physically fit. Kaplan will choose 12 young people from underserved communities throughout the city to participate in a program he calls the Baltimore Fitness Academy, or bMOREfit. The trainees will be paid an hourly wage to learn the basics of fitness-strength training, cardiovascular training, weightlifting and nutrition—as well as the business and interpersonal skills required to become successful fitness entrepreneurs. With obesity on the rise nationally and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease ravaging inner-city neighborhoods, the goal is not only to create healthier individuals, but also healthier communities.
"They're going to learn to live a healthier lifestyle," Kaplan said, "and then reach out to other people within their community about the importance of treating your body well so it will treat you well."
And fellow Laurie Kendall, 47, co-founder of the Spiral Dance Womyn's Bookstore, will use her grant to expand her popular bookstore into a full-fledged women's center that will be a hub for workshops about financial planning, home improvement, GED study courses, job skills training and more. Home crafters will sell their wares at the bookstore to help earn money for their families. Other women will be able to find supplies for their households in a "free store" stocked with donated items.
Kendall, who learned to read when she was in her late 20s, now holds a doctorate in American studies and a PhD certificate in women's studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her personal story of overcoming long odds has fueled a desire to help other women achieve success despite obstacles and adversity.
"Most women are working outside the home, trying to raise children and keep a family together. Sometimes that means two or three jobs," she said. "I just want to empower women to draw support from each other and learn to work collectively."
This is the 11th consecutive year that the Baltimore Community Fellowships program has offered grants to as many as 10 area residents to design and undertake projects that help make life better for Baltimore's underserved and marginalized community members.
The Open Society Institute-Baltimore launched the Baltimore Community Fellowships in 1998. The program has received support from OSI-Baltimore and several other foundations and individuals, including the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, the Lois and Irving Blum Foundation Inc., the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Cohen Opportunity Fund, the Commonweal Foundation, the Hoffberger Foundation, the Gloria B. and Herbert M. Katzenberg Charitable Fund, the Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation, the Foundation for Maryland's Future, the John Meyerhoff and Lenel Srochi Meyerhoff Fund, the Moser Family Philanthropic Fund, and the Alison and Arnold Richman Fund.
A six-person committee selected the eight finalists from more than 200 applicants after an extensive process including peer reviews, site visits, and interviews.
2008 Baltimore Community Fellows
Patrice Hutton - Writer and Recent Hopkins Graduate
Patrice will establish the Writers in Baltimore Schools program at the Margaret Brent Elementary School. Staffed by the Johns Hopkins undergraduate writing students, the project will provide in-class, after-school, and summer creative writing workshops, in addition to literary events throughout the neighborhood.
Jon A. Kaplan - Fitness and Wellness Director
Jon will create the Baltimore Fitness Academy (bMOREfit) and partner with YO! Baltimore to train and mentor marginalized teens ages 18 to 24 in a fitness and nutritional educational program. Participants will be certified and employed in the growing industry of fitness and hospitality.
Laurie Kendall - Professor
Laurie will establish the Spiral Dance Womyn's Center. Located in east Baltimore, the program will help women develop the practical skills needed to become active and successful participants in their own lives, homes, businesses, and communities.
Cydne Kimbrough - Activist
Cydne will use the Baltimore Transgender Antidiscrimination ordinance as the foundation to create a support system that advocates for more transgender opportunities in housing, education, and employment.
Ashley Minner - Artist
Ashley will use art as a tool to engage Native American youth in a structured, out-of-school, community-based arts program. The program will be used to connect youth to their culture as well as educate the broader community about the Native American community.
Ivy Parsons - Artist
Ivy will create the Interfaith Garden Art Project in partnership with the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Dr. Rayner Brown Elementary-Middle School, and the Interfaith community as a place to honor the school's champion chess players and as a sustainable environmental green space for all the community to enjoy.
Joyce Smith - Community Activist
Joyce will develop a Health and Nutrition Awareness Initiative for southwest Baltimore residents. She will educate low-income residents on accessing nutritional food as well as develop innovative activities and projects that create healthy lifestyles.
Shirell Tyner - Advocate
Shirell will establish the HIV/AIDS Outreach and Prevention Campaign in northwest Baltimore. She will target women most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS by targeting the most difficult to reach—ex-offenders, substance abusers and distributors, prostitutes, and the homeless.
Founded by philanthropist George Soros, OSI-Baltimore is a private operating foundation that supports a grantmaking, educational, and capacity-building program to expand justice and opportunity for Baltimore residents. OSI-Baltimore fosters debate and empowers marginalized groups to help shape and monitor public policy. It also strengthens communities and families through the development of fair, rational, and responsive public systems. Its current work focuses on helping Baltimore's youth succeed, reducing the social and economic costs of incarceration, tackling drug addiction, and building a corps of Community Fellows to bring innovative ideas to Baltimore's underserved communities.