For over 20 years, OSI-Baltimore has invested resources to support up to 10 individuals per year to implement innovative projects that seek to improve the circumstances and address social justice problems in underserved communities in Baltimore City.
OSI-Baltimore launched the Community Fellowships Program in 1998. There is now a corps of over 200 social justice innovators working throughout the city. The program’s “open valve” approach allows applicants to identify local problems deserving attention, regardless of whether they match OSI-Baltimore’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 Community Fellowships Program provides a channel for individuals to respond to the city’s many needs. For example, many communities have limited access to public services, appropriate street lighting, timely trash removal, and effective public transportation. They lack thriving schools, supermarkets, recreation and after-school programs, affordable childcare, and employment opportunities.
In 2019, the program had three goals: identify the entrepreneurial talent dedicated to revitalizing Baltimore’s communities; develop a strong Community Fellows Network by helping fellows to enhance the skills needed to be as effective in their work as possible; and integrate the Fellows’ community experience into priority Open Society fields. Fellows are included in cross-program collaboration activities involving OSI staff, experts, and practitioners working on informing and advancing changes in practice and policy work.
As part of goal two—developing a strong Fellows Network—the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB) worked with consultant Marianne Hughes and her team to assess the strength and impact of the Community Fellows Network. With FAB, which is made up of 11 Fellows from the program’s 22-year history, the Fellowships program produced network maps, published a white paper, held several network leadership sessions, and hosted two network summits. In addition, the program contributed to a 2019 article by Didi Golderhar, “Weaving a Network for Baltimore: Five Lessons Learned with the OSI-Baltimore Community Fellows” (available at osibaltimore.org).
At its core, the Fellows’ work is power building. The effective way in which the work is undertaken contributes to culture and narrative change in Baltimore City.FAB members are committed to establishing strategies to strengthen the relationships within the Fellows Network and in building a more equitable Baltimore by leveraging the talent of network members to address a shared social justice issue.
From Weaving a Network for Baltimore: Five Lessons Learned with the OSI-Baltimore Community Fellows by Didi Goldenhar
1. To build collective power, invest in network training, structure, and strategy.
2. For network building, convening is the glue—especially in a city like Baltimore.
3. Networks need to see themselves and the bigger picture.
4. Engage the healthy tension in social justice networks—between relationships and taking action.
5. Go deep before broad. Right action emerges from trusting relationships.
Logos are from some of the organizations founded by OSI-Baltimore Community Fellows.
Based at Towson University, Elyshia Aseltine is establishing Fair Chance Higher Education as a Center that supports criminal justice system-impacted people in their pursuit of higher education.
Janet Glover-Kerkvliet is creating the Baltimore Job Hunters Support Group (BJHSG) to support the long-term unemployed and under-employed. The initiative is assisting job seekers with the social, emotional, and psychological pain associated with mid-career job loss through counseling, coaching, information/referral, networking and outreach.
Damien A. Haussling is developing the Baltimore Furniture Bank to connect low-income individuals and families to much needed gently used furniture and other household items by working with case managers, social workers, and similar professionals.
In partnership with the Baltimore Compost Collective, Marvin L. Hayes is growing the number of youth in the Brooklyn/Curtis Bay neighborhood trained in the science and art of community composting as a non-burn waste diversion strategy –“learn so we don’t have to burn.” The initiative will evolve to include other neighborhoods throughout the city.
Kanav Kathuria is establishing the Farm to Prison Project as a means to address the public health crisis regarding food conditions in prisons. The initiative seeks to improve all aspects of food served in correctional facilities and build alternatives to exploitive practices by food service companies.
Using the intergenerational mentoring near-to-peer model, Alphonso Mayo is establishing Mentoring Mentors as a vehicle to establish long-term mentoring relationships with African American youth ages 12–18. The initiative is helping youth with social and emotional development, physical wellness, as well as improve literacy and life skills.
Through a series of educational workshops and parent engagement, Dinorah Olmos is establishing La Escuela, sus Hijos y Usted: Empowering Latino Parents to Support Student Success as an initiative designed to educate, empower, and inspire Spanish speaking Latino parents to effectively engage in the parent-school community.
Mariah S. Pratt Bonkowski is establishing PoP Pantries (micro pantries) to combat food instability and hygiene poverty by increasing access to emergency food and hygiene items for families in need.
Ana Rodney is establishing MOMCares as an initiative to provide prenatal and postpartum Doula services to low-income African American women navigating high-risk pregnancy or with a child involved in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
To address the need of housing instability for Spanish speaking residents in the Brooklyn/Curtis Bay community, Kendra Summers is establishing Casa Amable (kind home) as an initiative to support emergency housing services, promote long-term stable housing, and help Latinx residents learn tenants’ rights through a housing-based ESOL curriculum.
Additional Community Fellowships Grant
Business Volunteers Maryland
$45,000 over 18 months to provide mentors and advisors to organizations established by OSI-Baltimore Community Fellows