The Open Society Institute-Baltimore announces today its 2012 class of community fellows and  is committing $720,000 – the largest amount of money in the history of the program – to support social entrepreneurs who have creative and inspiring ideas for improving Baltimore.

The work of the fellows, which began in 1998, has made an indelible mark on the city. The newest class of 12 fellows will join a network of 125 others thinkers and doers before them, most of whom still actively work in the city, continuing to bring fresh energy and new ideas to effect social change.

Each of this year’s fellows will receive $60,000 to work full-time for 18 months, implementing creative strategies to assist and revitalize underserved communities in Baltimore. The class will see their ideas made real in prisons, gardens and urban farms, in classrooms, community centers and city roadways.

In an effort to reach more of those who are among the city’s most underserved – black men and boys – OSI-Baltimore for the first time has designated two awardees as Black Male Achievement (BMA) Fellows. Lawrence Brown and Bashi Rose will receive additional recognition from the Open Society Foundation’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a multi-issue strategy to address black men and boys’ exclusion from economic, social, educational and political life in the United States. The BMA Fellowship is dedicated to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys in the U.S. It is the first fellowship program of its kind.

“Our newest Community Fellows are our largest group of dynamic and committed social activists, each with an original vision for bringing opportunity and greater justice to Baltimore,” said Pamela King, OSI-Baltimore Director of Community Fellowships. “This is the 15th class of fellows. Each year we continue to be surprised and inspired to see that there is no shortage of innovative approaches and solutions for our city. Working across issues and neighborhoods, these fellows bring hope, new methodologies, resources and advocacy skills to residents, mobilizing them to take action to meet their own needs and to revitalize Baltimore communities.”

From their proposed projects to their personal stories, the Class of 2012 is extremely diverse.

A theater artist will bring film, theater and poetry into five Maryland prisons and work with black men and boys to help them learn to navigate conflict without violence. An urban farmer will salvage fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste from farms, farmers’ markets and other food sources to feed the city’s hungry. An environmental scientist will teach East Baltimore residents how to dispose of their trash and recycling in a way that will benefit a local community garden and urban farm. And two men who have been in prison will give back to their communities by helping formerly incarcerated men find jobs, earn degrees, repair relationships and become whole.

One such fellow, Harold Bailey, has a personal story as inspiring as his project.

At the age of 23, Bailey went to prison. His near 20-year incarceration for a fight that resulted in a homicide could have sent him down a long and troubling path. “Fortunately, I had incredible family support,” he says. “Many individuals who have been incarcerated don’t have that.”

Through his Re-entry Employment and Economic Empowerment Program, Bailey will work with formerly incarcerated black males to help improve their re-entry to society. Over the course of his fellowship, he will work one-on-one with up to 125 men to help them finish their schooling—or even learn to read and write, if necessary—and go on to sustainable careers.

Lawrence Brown, one of the new Black Male Achievement fellows, aims to strengthen the families of men with children by removing barriers to employment, increasing health insurance coverage and providing support services to up to 150 men.

“No quarterback just showed up on game day ready to play. There’s a lot of strategy involved,” Brown says, of his project, You’re the Quarterback: Gameplan for Life. “The name of my project is the actual statement we want to make to the men we serve: ‘You’re the quarterback. You need to do some game planning. Your team is your family. If you’re going to move them down the field to score, to be successful, then you need to game plan for life.’”

Bashi Rose, the other Black Male Achievement fellow, will work within five Maryland prisons to teach incarcerated black men how to use theater and film as a tool to navigate conflict without violence, create healthy relationships, develop effective communication skills and ultimately prevent recidivism.

“Theater helps human beings develop in a really dynamic way,” says Rose, speaking from experience, “sometimes without them even knowing it.”

Fellow Lauren Goodsmith, an interpreter who has spent her career in public health and working with refugees around the world, noticed that refugees placed in Baltimore had no network of mental health providers to help them. So Goodsmith will bring agencies and nonprofits together to train mental health providers to work with this challenging population.

“Refugees often flee with nothing but the clothes on their back. They have experienced violence, displacement; some of them have spent years, even decades, in refugee camps before coming here. And then they confront the stress of acculturation, a new society, a different language,” says Goodsmith. “This project is designed particularly to provide therapeutic care and counseling to address the psycho-social needs of people who have been displaced.”

And urban planner Chris Merriam is determined to share his love of biking with his community while helping create a healthier, more affordable lifestyle for Baltimore residents. Through his nonprofit Bikemore, Merriam will promote all forms of cycling and hopes to expand the number of people who ride a bike while advocating for the rights, safety and equality of Baltimore’s diverse cycling community.

“My vision is a Baltimore in which bicycling and walking are viable and safe options and embraced as tools for active, healthy lifestyles,” said Merriam. “In order to get there, we’re going to need to advocate for change, starting with getting the community on board.”

This year’s group of fellows also includes David Hornbeck, a former Maryland Superintendent of Schools, who will spend his fellowship working to strengthen the community schools network in Baltimore.

“Community schools tend to operate in a kind of an opportunistic way,” says Hornbeck. “They say, ‘Hey, there’s a church down the street or a social services agency nearby or a guy I met who has an interest in kids and wants to volunteer.’ And so they become a part of the school’s partnerships, often in an ad hoc way. One of the premises of this effort is that we’re not going to be able to move this idea to scale unless it becomes a whole lot more strategic and a whole lot less ad hoc.”

Other projects include a training program for low-income parents of preschoolers to nurture their child’s inner scientist, a community arts program teaching middle- and high-school students to use digital media to bring about social justice, and a project that will address the academic and emotional needs of middle-school girls by teaching them to write, publish and sell a book.

Open Society Institute–Baltimore launched the Baltimore Community Fellowships in 1998. The program has received support from OSI-Baltimore and several other foundations and individuals, including The Clayton Baker Trust, The Lois and Irving Blum Foundation Inc., the Cohen Opportunity Fund, The Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation, the John Meyerhoff and Lenel Srochi Meyerhoff Fund, the Moser Family Philanthropic Fund, The Osprey Foundation, the PNC Foundation, the Alison and Arnold Richman Fund, The Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation, Barbara K. and M. Sigmund Shapiro, and many individual donors.

A six-person committee selected the 12 finalists after extensive evaluation, including peer reviews, site visits and interviews.
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Edited from Press Release

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