The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation awarded Baltimore-based global investment firm T. Rowe Price “Best Community Improvement Program” in the 21st Annual Citizens Awards.
The T. Rowe Price Foundation was recognized for their work in helping Baltimore residents and organizations address challenges in their communities, but the foundation’s president, John Brothers, said those community members are the ones truly deserving of the award.
“For us to be recognized in this way is just really, really flattering,” Brothers said. “But it’s more of a testament to the community partners that we’re fortunate enough to have partnering with us. They allow us to do this work, so we’re just grateful that we get to do it.”
In 2016, the T. Rowe Price Foundation committed $1.3 million in grant money, which they rolled out over three years, to address challenges in West Baltimore.
Brothers said that members of the T. Rowe Price team sat in on several meetings where West Baltimore residents and leaders discussed various issues within their communities.
Brothers said it was important for T. Rowe Price to just “shut up and listen” to the residents who knew their communities best.
“The community, right after the unrest, were organizing themselves … We were just fortunate enough to be allowed to be in those spaces,” he said.
About a dozen recurring themes came from those meetings, including issues with housing and jobs, Brothers said.
But he said the one issue that T. Rowe Price heard “more than anything” was the lack of access to fresh food.
T. Rowe Price collaborated with numerous community organizations to address three main areas of need: reducing food insecurity, building up residents’ financial capabilities, and connecting community leaders with resources to run their organizations.
With a $200,000 grant from T. Rowe Price, No Boundaries Coaltion was able to lead food justice efforts to get more fresh food into local venues, Brothers said.
“In 2015, you had to get two buses to get an apple or a vegetable in that neighborhood,” he said. “Now, in central West Baltimore, that’s not the case. People have access to fresh fruits and vegetables on most days of the week and I think that’s a positive movement to real success that hits real people every day.”
T. Rowe Price also provided a $575,000 grant to organizations such as the Maryland Association of Nonprofits and Baltimore Corps to help local groups develop their organizations’ leadership capabilities and organizational structures.
Another $480,000 grant helped groups like Junior Achievement to build families’ financial literacy and teach how to make the most out of their money.
Brothers added that the latter initiative also sought to help residents break down barriers that were keeping them from accessing financial capital for their families or businesses, such as lingering derogatory marks on their credit report.
T. Rowe Price paid the lending nonprofit Kiva to bring a site to Baltimore to help small businesses get loans of up to $25,000.
With all of the initiatives, Brothers said T. Rowe Price wanted communities to take charge of not only identifying issues and implementing solutions, but also developing metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of those solutions.
After the grantees determine those standards, Brothers said a T. Rowe Price representative sits down with them every six months to help track their progress.
“If they’re performing great, maybe they re-think through their metrics and shoot for a new level,” he said. “If they’re struggling, our job is not to point a finger, but to try to find a way that we can be extra supportive in helping them reach that goal or re-thinking that goal together.”
T. Rowe Price has also partnered with global and local corporations to address the coronavirus pandemic, including making a $250,000 donation to the Fund for Educational Excellence to reduce food insecurity among Baltimore City Public Schools students and their families.
“We have locked arms with over a dozen local companies to try to provide a response to COVID and try to get dollars in very much the same way we did in 2015 with West Baltimore,” Brothers said. “This group of corporations have come together to try to make sure that organizations throughout the city that were working around hunger got money in their pockets, [many of whom] had traditionally not gotten funding from institutional philanthropies or corporations before.”
Brothers said he sees the Citizens Award as positive reflection on not only the work that T. Rowe Price is doing, but more importantly the way in which they are doing that work by following the lead of community members.
“Winning awards is always nice, but we think this is something the community helped us get,” he said. “We know every day we’re trying to earn the trust of the communities that we work in. We don’t take that for granted. It’s nice to get the award, but what’s nicer for us is the ability to continue to walk into communities and work with them.”