OSI-Baltimore launched the Community Fellowships Program in 1998 to identify dynamic activists and social entrepreneurs looking to implement projects that address problems in underserved communities in Baltimore City.
Each year, OSI names up to 10 Community Fellows and the Baltimore Community Fellowships Network is now 200 strong and includes people behind some of Baltimore’s most impactful organizations, including Thread, The Book Thing, Wide Angle Youth Media, FORCE, Fluid Movement, and so many more.
The program’s “open valve approach” allows applicants to identify local problems deserving attention, regardless of whether they match OSI’s existing priorities, and to define the “community” they wish to target. In a city struggling with the impact of past and present discriminatory policies and practices and chronic disinvestment, the Fellowships program provides a channel for individuals to respond to the city’s many needs.
The program has three goals. The first is to identify the entrepreneurial talent dedicated to revitalizing Baltimore’s communities. The second is to develop a strong Community Fellows Network by helping Fellows to enhance the skills needed to be as effective in their work as possible. The third is to integrate the Fellows’ community experience into priority Open Society fields—Fellows are included in cross program collaboration activities involving OSI staff, experts, and practitioners to inform and advance changes in practice and policy work.
In 2018, the Fellowship Program named its 21st cohort of Fellows and continued to support the work of the Fellows Advisory Board to facilitate collaboration among the Fellowships network.
Still Sharing: Peer Coaching
From its founding 20 years ago, OSI’s Community Fellowships Program has focused on identifying passionate people with great ideas to improve the lives of people in Baltimore’s underserved communities. In recent years, as the network of Fellows grew to 200, the program pivoted to think about how to leverage this network of committed activists to be a collective force for the city.
Recently, OSI launched the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB), a group of 15 Fellows from throughout the program’s history tasked with working to strengthen connections among Fellows, discover and address shared needs, and explore ways to collaborate. In 2018, FAB launched the Peer Coaching Program, matching Fellows in the 2018 cohort with Fellows in the network.
2018 OSI Community Fellow Aarti Sidhu, right, talks to her mentor, 2013 OSI Community Fellow Lanaea Featherstone. Photo by Laura Pohl.
“Lanaea has been an ideal mentor – I run everything by her,” 2018 Fellow Aarti Sidhu says of her coach, 2012 Fellow Lanaea Featherstone, who, in addition to meeting for regular coaching sessions, invited Sidhu to a special reception to meet Gloria Steinem. “Being able to learn from Lanaea’s experiences has been a great help.”
Meet OSI’s 2018 Community Fellows
Graham Coreil-Allen will launch the Druid Hill Park Complete Streets Project to advocate for transportation and green space equity through public art and creative planning. The project aims to increase access for pedestrians, bicyclists, and people with mobility devices to correct for the history of civic planning in the area that prioritized commuter traffic, despite the fact that about half of the local residents don’t own cars.|
Ciera Daniel will establish Young Kings Leadership Academy, an after-school leadership development program targeting African-American middle-school boys at East Baltimore’s City Springs Elementary Middle School. The project hopes to counteract negative stereotypes about black men in popular culture and help students realize their potential to serve their school and their community.
Eric Fishel’s Baltimore Foodparks will convert vacant lots into mixed-use parks using native edible plants for the benefit of both the nearby human and bird communities. Through educational events, Eric will also introduce community members to related employment opportunities. The project will conserve the city’s greenspace, improve local ecosystems, and rehabilitate blighted areas.
Jennay Ghowral will improve the experience and representation of criminal defendants facing mental health challenges with her program, REMIND, which will train defense attorneys to understand and communicate better with their clients. This population made up 40 percent of Maryland Public Defender’s clients in 2017. The goal is to improve outcomes, increase access to services, and reduce recidivism.
Shelley Halstead’s organization, Black Women Build – Baltimore, will teach black women carpentry skills as they rehabilitate houses in the Upton community, helping them to build careers as well as wealth through home ownership.
Ava Pipitone will establish HostHome, a community-owned online housing platform designed to address housing instability in the transgender community. It will allow hosts to provide temporary housing for people in distress. In the future, the platform could become a national model.
Aarti Sidhu’s Represent Youth: Baltimore School Justice Initiative will provide legal representation to Baltimore school children in suspension and expulsion proceedings. The initiative will empower youth and families by educating them about their rights in schools and advocating for policy reform to decrease and ultimately end exclusionary discipline.
Emily Thompson will establish PIVOT as a comprehensive re-entry program for women returning to Baltimore City from the criminal justice system. The initiative seeks to address the gap in gender-specific programming for formerly incarcerated people.
Fred Watkins will build Lil’ Laughs as a vehicle to increase the self-esteem of students using entertainment and programming that incorporates de-escalation and confidence-building techniques.
Brittany Young’s B-360 will utilize the dirt bike culture to equip disconnected youth and young adults with the skills to secure educational and career opportunities in STEM fields. The initiative also seeks to change the negative perception of dirt bike riders.
Community Fellowship Grants
Business Volunteers Maryland
$45,000 over 18 months to provide mentors and advisors to organizations established by Baltimore Community Fellows
Clay Pots, A Place to Grow
$3,300 over one year to provide informal venues where members of the Baltimore Community Fellowships Network can interact, deepen their relationships, and set the state for further collaboration
Special Opportunity Grants
CASA de Maryland, Inc.
$25,000 over one year to provide rapid response, case management, legal assistance and safety planning services to detained immigrants and their families
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
$50,000 over two years to support the Maryland Center on Economic Policy’s research, analysis, public education and strategic communication to reduce inequality and promote economic prosperity in Maryland
Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers
$15,360 over two years to provide general support