Then and now
Unchained Talent is a youth-driven program that uses the performing arts as a tool to keep youth engaged in school. Its founder, Christina Youngston, has led her organization through a significant growth spurt. Since beginning her fellowship in 2005, Youngston has taken Unchained Talent from a volunteer-only effort, working with 10 students in one city high school, to a midsize nonprofit with 15 staff members, who are working in seven city schools and more than 150 young people.
The initiative is doing so well in meeting its mission that Youngston can now boast that some of the nonprofit’s artist mentors, those who work directly with the students, are themselves former Unchained Talent participants.
Challenge of sustainability
“It’s enormously challenging to work in Baltimore City with this population of children and within the infrastructure of the public schools,” Youngston says. “Yet, because we don’t have a commodity that we sell, it is sometimes hard to make the case for what we do. The work that we do is slow and lifelong. We plant a seed in young people and then we feed it.”
OSI-Baltimore has helped
“OSI-Baltimore is a seal of approval. It brings a great deal of validity to what we do.” Youngston says.
Youngston also has worked with many other fellows throughout the years, tapping into their intellectual capital and benefitting from their support and shared vision of change. Included in that list are Gin Ferrara of Wide Angle Youth Media, Matt Warfield of the Baltimore Free Store and many others.
“I think being a member of this close-knit group of alumni, of social entrepreneurs, really provides me with access to shared resources, knowledge and a camaraderie of peers, which is essential to being able to carry out and sustain this work, emotionally, logistically and strategically.”
With the grant, Unchained Talent will build and execute an improved communications and branding plan to increase public awareness of its successes. It will also conduct a strategic development plan to diversify its funding sources and train staff, board and key volunteers to be active and effective participants in fund development activities.
“We haven’t been great about telling everyone about what we’re doing,” Youngston says. “We’ve been so busy doing it.”
Unchained Talent has, to this point, been an after-school program. But this school year, Youngston will be starting a new in-school arts integration program, bringing artist mentors into the classroom to partner with teachers in an effort to reach up to 45 hard-to-reach young people. Youngston also plans to take the program to at least one citywide site, allowing students from across Baltimore to participate and create.
“It’s a very exciting time for Unchained Talent,” Youngston says. “And it’s a real blessing to have been able to carry out this calling.”