“[A] combination of realism and open-mindedness among residents—an underlying belief in the city’s potential, despite its frustrating challenges.”
This is one of the responses I received when I asked Baltimoreans what they believed were the city’s strengths. Over the past two months, I have had the amazing opportunity to experience some of this realism and open-mindedness, to listen to and learn from Baltimoreans from all walks of life, as they told me about the city’s most pressing challenges, as well as some of the solutions.
Baltimoreans care most about crime, education, drug addiction, and blight, and they are acting on these issues everyday in creative ways all over the city to make it a better place for all of us. Many of these actors are volunteers, and this is where a citywide service and volunteerism initiative can play an important role in increasing the impact of these countless individual volunteer efforts.
This citywide initiative will engage more volunteers, identify measurable outcomes for each priority area, develop and implement projects that will use volunteers to achieve those outcomes, and establish a standard set of metrics that will measure progress towards those outcomes in multiple project sites across the city. Essentially, the initiative has the audacious goal of moving the needle in each priority area and using volunteers to do it within a certain period of time.
Can we increase attendance in a targeted student population, geographic area, or schools through a project that uses volunteers in strategic ways to support students, parents, and school staff? Can we sustain, through the use of trained volunteers, the recovery of a targeted population of community members who are overcoming addiction? Can we achieve a certain percentage increase in acres of vacant neighborhood lots returned to productive use through a citywide, coordinated effort that channels volunteers towards achieving that goal? The initiative is setting its sights towards doing all of this, and then some.