A longtime Baltimore City police officer, Deborah Ramsey has seen the best and the worst of people. She’s working to foster the “best” through the Penn North Violence Prevention Youth Center in West Baltimore, which gives Penn North students a safe space for after-school enrichment activities and one-on-one counseling. Ramsey says she averages about 20 students per day coming to the center, in the process of moving to a larger and more permanent site. The OSI-Baltimore Fellowship is helping her offer more personalized follow-up to students in need. “There are some thing things that may need additional attention or help,” Ramsey says. “I will now be freed up to go out and meet with the children in their homes to let them see I am there for them. This will help me let them know that we’re a part of their safety net.”
In her days as a social worker, Eliseba Osore saw firsthand how living in poverty can make it extremely difficult for mothers to afford supplies for their babies and small children. Her project, the ShareBaby Baby Pantry, is a nonprofit that provides diapers, clothing and other basic goods to organizations that work with families in need. In October 2016, ShareBaby gave out more than 13,000 diapers as part of an ongoing drive to establish a diaper bank. “I see the role of the Baby Pantry as a tool to educate and help bridge the two Baltimores,” says Osore. “People who don’t have to struggle every day, if we can get them to think about the lives of people who do and get them to understand that it’s important to give what they don’t need anymore to those who do, I think we will have a much better community.”
After nearly 20 years as a teacher in Baltimore, Lamarr Shields, Ph.D., became concerned about the revolving door of teachers leaving the profession each year. In response Shields established the Teacher Exchange, which connects new teachers at ConneXions in West Baltimore to students who aspire to teaching or social work. The partnership gives young teachers a source of honest feedback and a cultural liaison with the student community, and offers the students a chance to learn about teaching pedagogy, classroom management, and leadership skills. “It’s an exchange of ideas, of culture, of positions,” says Shields, as both students and teachers will find themselves teaching and learning from each other. Fifteen student-teacher pairs are participating in this year of the Teacher Exchange, which Shields hopes to expand to additional schools in the coming years.
When Melissa Badeker ended her five-year career as a teacher in Baltimore City schools, she kept all of her teaching supplies – but quickly realized she’d have to throw most of them out. Her fellowship, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap, collects unused teaching supplies and gets them into the hands of teachers who need them. She notes that the average teacher spends well over $600 per year on school supplies, and many teachers end up crowding supply closets and living rooms with leftover supplies. “One social studies teacher in the city came and said, ‘I was going to have to write a grant to supplies for my classroom. Now I don’t have to write a grant. I have everything I need here.’ That’s so gratifying,” says Badeker. “Our kids aren’t going to succeed unless the teachers are in a position to help them do so.”
Gianna Rodriguez is using her passion for the arts to help young people involved in or leaving the juvenile justice system through Baltimore Youth Arts. While Rodriguez initially taught a single volunteer arts class at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, she is using her fellowship to expand her program to offer arts education, mentorship and transitional employment for young people leaving the criminal justice system. Training sessions pay youth ages 14 to 22 an hourly wage as they learn arts and job skills and connect to mentors and services in the community. “This is about more than transitional employment,” says Rodriguez. “We want to engage with young people over time and work with them for the long term so that we can help connect them to better opportunities.”
As a Peace Corps volunteer living in Guyana, Katie Miller found that the best way to build community with the locals was through food. She’s doing just that in Baltimore through the Latino Food Alliance, which works with We Are CASA to help increase participation in food access and food justice initiatives among Baltimore’s Latino immigrant community. Miller’s fellowship is helping some of the city’s Latino-owned corner stores get educated about the citywide Healthy Corner Stores Initiative, as well as connecting Latino youth to food justice activism. “Food is something that has a lot of potential for community building, and breaking bread with your neighbor is a good way to start to bridge community divides,” says Miller.
Isa Olufemi is working to prepare students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for college both physically and academically through the Poet Pride Run Club (PPRC). The club goes far beyond running: participants are connected to individual advisors to help them with college applications and to innovative service learning experiences. In the club’s first year, for example, Olufemi developed a partnership with Under Armour that allowed club members to meet with some of the company’s black designers and get sponsorship in the Baltimore Running Festival. He wants to change the reputation of young black people in the Dunbar community and help strengthen the “Poet Pride” at Dunbar. “Sometimes we take our 7 a.m. Unity Run through downtown Baltimore,” he says. “I know that when people see us running, they are inspired to grow themselves.”
Jermaine Bell is working to build support for black “artivists” – artists and activists – through his partnership with Exit The Apple in the Barclay neighborhood. In 2015, Bell worked with Impact Hub Baltimore to organize weekly cultural experiences that showcased local creative voices. His fellowship expands on that work, and Bell is working directly with community members to develop programming that allows local black artists to speak out on the issues that impact them. “I understand my role in activism,” says Bell. “I may not be rallying in the streets; that’s not my personality. But I will be hosting thoughtful conversations about these issues.”
Jc Faulk has convened thousands of Baltimoreans to have frank and honest discussions about race, patriarchy, transphobia and other serious issues over the past two years through An End to Ignorance/Circles of Voices. Faulk, a former corporate diversity consultant, hopes these dialogs nudge participants outside their comfort zones and help them take action to combat racism and sexism in their communities. He is using his OSI-Baltimore fellowship to increase presence of Circles of Voices in and outside of Baltimore. “This is important work,” says Shields. “The world looks crazy right now, yet as bad as it appears, there are good people, sitting on the sidelines, afraid of not knowing what to do to change the narrative. It is the ongoing mission of Circles of Voices to diminish the impact of ‘-isms’ while creating safe spaces for participants to tackle centuries-old issues that stand in the way of Baltimore and America being what we can be.”
Jennifer Will-Thapa’s Common Ground Youth Farm Project is providing farm training, mentorship and personal development to young people who are involved with the juvenile courts system. The project blends Will-Thapa’s past work with young people in the juvenile justice system and her love of gardening, offering Baltimore youth an opportunity to connect to their environment and learn valuable skills. Youth farmers are also participating in weekly dialogue circles to talk about issues on the farm and in their own lives. Will-Thapa is hopeful that participants will take away much more than just gardening knowledge. “I’m big on accountability,” she says. “I’m not going to chase the young people down if they don’t show up. But they know that I think that they are worth it, that I think they are capable. They know what I expect of them.”