A couple local universities rank as some of the top contributors to national education service corps Teach for America.
Overall, the program boasted a record 48,000 applications for around 5,200 jobs serving as teachers for two years in urban and rural public schools. The University of Maryland-College Park ranked tenth among large schools, sending 56 graduating seniors to the program. Johns Hopkins, contributing 25 students, ranked 14th among medium schools. (Nearly 8 percent Johns Hopkins undergrads applied to the program.)
TFA corps members are an elite group: “Incoming corps members earned an average GPA of 3.6, and 100 percent have held leadership positions. Twenty-two percent are the first in their family to graduate from college, and nearly one-third received Pell Grants. More than one-third are people of color, including 12 percent who are African American and 8 percent who are Hispanic.”
Though most of these local grads will end up serving communities across the U.S. — from Oklahoma City to the Bronx to Appalachian Kentucky — some may wind up back here in Baltimore; the city hosts 325 of these teachers, meaning that they teach more than 20,000 students over their tenure in the city’s highest-need schools.
“I like to do different things at the same time,” Dana Stein says. “It’s rewarding.”
For some people, that might mean taking up gardening on the weekends or playing tennis after work. But Stein’s roving interests have led him to a life that’s chock full of much more than just hobbies: he runs a thriving non-profit, advocates for the environment as a state delegate, where he acts as deputy majority whip and a member of the environmental matters committee. And for fun last year, he wrote a novel.
The book, Fire in the Wind, came about because Stein was troubled by the fact that when he spoke with high school students about the dangers of global warming, many didn’t seem concerned at all. Stein figured that this might be because it was hard for them to imagine the impact of melting ice caps and increasingly extreme weather patterns. “It’s hard for them to visualize, because it’s too far over the horizon,” he explained in a recent phone conversation. But without formal training as a scientist or teacher, how could he make the issue relevant for them?
Fire in the Wind was born out of just this frustration. It took Stein four or five months to draft the initial version of his dystopian environmental novel, which imagines a near-future America (the novel is set in 2036) where climate change has led to widespread flooding, an internal refugee problem, and a radicalized environmental movement.
The fact that he’d never written fiction before didn’t stymie Stein, perhaps because he has a long history of jumping into new ventures with enthusiasm and vigor. A graduate of Baltimore County public schools, Stein went on to get the Ivy League trifecta — degrees from Harvard (B.A. in government), Columbia (law degree), and Princeton (Master’s in public affairs). But after several years practicing law in D.C., Stein found himself drawn by a new opportunity — the chance to do hands-on work with young people in some of Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods.
Civic Works, the non-profit that Stein helped found in the early 1990s and continues to run today between stints in Annapolis, is an urban service organization along the lines of a hometown Peace Corps. Civic Works corps members gain skills — in green construction, in urban farming, in entry-level healthcare work — while at the same time serving their communities.
When asked which of the many Civic Works programs he’s most proud of, Stein cites Project Lightbulb, for which corps members go door to door in low-income neighborhoods, offering free energy efficient lightbulbs and other small — yet crucial — green home improvements. “Not only are you helping the environment,” Stein notes, “but you’re lowering costs for the homeowner.”
Notably, Civic Works aims many of its greening projects at low-income neighborhoods, primarily those surrounding the organization’s home base in Clifton Park. One of the message implicit in Civic Works’ projects is that working to improve the environment isn’t just a luxury activity for rich people with enough time and money to spend on organic produce and home weatherization. In fact, since much of the burden of environmental problems gets shifted onto the urban poor, it only makes sense to involve them in the solution.
Along these lines, Stein cites another Civic Works project, the Real Food Farm in Clifton Park, as another of the program’s successes. “We’re responding to a direct community need,” Stein says, pointing out that the area around the farm is what’s known as a food desert, meaning that residents don’t have access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. The farm doesn’t just provide the produce the neighborhood previously lacked; it also gets local residents involved and invested in the growing process. Tyler Brown, who runs the farm, praises Stein for “creat[ing] a real vision for what the next step is in developing Baltimore into a city that’s on the cutting edge of sustainable practices” and f’or “really taking a chance on following through” not just on the farm, but on a whole host of issues.
But then there’s the whole other side of Stein’s life: his political work. “I guess what unites [these different projects] is commitment to community and to service,” Stein muses. He was elected to represent the 11th District (Northwest Baltimore County) in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006, with the goal of affecting change on a broader basis. As he describes his particular projects in the legislature, it becomes clear that his experience with Civic Works informs his work in Annapolis. He serves on the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee, through which he’s helped enact legislation to promote renewable energy, set up the Maryland Clean Energy Center, and enable counties to adopt the international green construction code.
Most recently, Stein has found himself surprisingly compelled by an issue he’d previously had no particular interest in: ensuring that Maryland citizens are financially literate. After the real estate collapse, bailouts, and financial crisis that marked 2008, Stein says, “I realized that maybe we need to study how well students and adults in Maryland are educated in financial topics.” So he set up a task force, made some recommendations, and eventually developed a financial literacy curriculum that will be a required component for public schools in Maryland starting this fall.
But do all the committees and task forces and lists of recommendations that make up the life of a legislator ever feel, well, slow compared to the work he does at Civic Works, where accomplishments are clear and concrete (more than 2 million pounds of trash removed; 25,477 trees planted; 21 playgrounds built)? For Stein, it seems, the two kinds of work balance each other out nicely. “Civic Works has a significant impact in certain areas. In the legislature, the impact is perhaps not as deep, but it’s broader,” he says.
And, in the end, for Stein all the work is just his attempt at making the world a safer, greener place for his wife and two young daughters. “I probably have always been a bit of a workaholic,” Stein admits. “But it’s great to be able to do work that you find personally rewarding.”
With today’s launch of GiveCorps, local philanthropy–like virtually every other aspect of life–finds its place on the internet. GiveCorps is a new kind of business: it helps donors find local causes they really care about and makes it easy to donate online. Or as co-founder Beth Falcone, a former VP at Maryland National Bank, put it, it’s a “for-profit with a heart.” She and co-founder Jamie McDonald, a former managing director at Alex. Brown & Sons, recognized that small, local projects often fail to receive the support they need from a community, not because people aren’t willing to help, but because they don’t realize they can.
“If causes can become authentic institutions of these Networked Neighborhoods,” McDonald wrote in an online post describing the site, “they will find a new group of supporters who will celebrate their successes and tackle their challenges.” GiveCorps aims to make Baltimore one such “Networked Neighborhood.”
The process is relatively simple. An organization contacts GiveCorps with a cause and decides whether the project will be a “big give” feature project or a searchable listed project. GiveCorps charges a campaign development fee of about 1,000 dollars for feature projects and an additional twenty-nine dollars per month for ongoing listings. (Currently there is no development fee until GiveCorps reaches 10,000 subscribers.) The website gives feature projects space on the homepage and markets them through email outreach to other GiveCorps donors. There is no development fee for listed projects, although the site charges 79 dollars per month for listing. The projects do not have homepage space, but they do receive a cause page, as well as separate project pages, and are marketed via GiveCorps social media.
Already, 27 Baltimore non-profits have signed with GiveCorps, among them Living Classrooms, WYPR, and Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. The site will use three main methods of promotion. Each organization featured in a “big give” project will email its subscribers about its partnership with GiveCorps–all have the option of including a GiveCorps widget on their site. Merchants on the GiveCorps site will email subscribers and both non-profits and merchants are encouraged to share their association to the site through Facebook and Twitter. Finally, beginning this week, MissionTix will promote GiveCorps on its website and through e-newsletters. The site’s logo will appear on the back of tickets through the fall.
And then people donate. The suggested donation is 25 dollars, though donors can give any amount over 10 dollars. Ninety percent of each donation goes directly to the cause, three percent covers transaction fees, and the remaining seven percent goes to GiveCorps. The site hopes to attract about 550 donors per day, a goal that if met would mean five million dollars to charity in the first year. GiveCorps launches in Baltimore this month and Philadelphia in the fall, but hopes to be in 12 cities around the country by next year.
This may seem ambitious, but GiveCorps feels confident that the incentive to donate is there. First, they target a demographic of younger adults who care about helping out in their community but don’t always know how. These digital natives are comfortable conducting everyday affairs online. Second, GiveCorps gives back. Each week, the site offers multiple local deals, like 50 dollars off a 100 dollar purchase at Nelson Coleman Jewelers or admission to all four historic ships at the Inner Harbor for the price of one. When a person makes a donation, he or she chooses up to five weekly deals as a reward.
Not only are people rewarded for their contribution, but the site can track exactly how donations are used. Instead of writing a check and mailing it off to some giant, amorphous organization, donors see how each dollar benefits each cause. This type of interest-based charity also affords GiveCorps an opportunity to collect valuable data that could contribute to more productive philanthropy in the future. Most importantly, GiveCorps reestablishes the sense of giving that has faded in the past few decades. It is a new way to give and get back.
Contest: To celebrate the site’s launch this month, GiveCorps is holding a weekly contest to help build a subscriber base. Subscribers simply have to “Like” GiveCorps on Facebook or Tweet a pre-composed message then enter their email address for a chance to win. One winner will be selected every Tuesday and Friday through July 4, and each winner will receive a gift of 100 dollars to a charity of choice, as well as a dinner for two at Woodberry Kitchen, also valued at 100 dollars.
DONATED MEDIA: Meet Lemmy, currently seeking a winning new best friend. Consider adopting him today! This Maryland SPCA Cutie Pie in Residence, an 11-month-old border collie/pit bull mix is smart, active and affectionate, according to experts on the inside. Lemmy loves hugs, tummy rubs, and joyful interaction. He gets along great with children and other dogs, but due to his overwhelming passion for felines (he tends to chase them), he’s best placed in a home that’s kitty-cat free. The ideal new human match for Lemmy will be attentive and active—no diehard couch potatoes need apply, unless willing to convert to ball-throwing, block-walking, smile-cracking reborns—and expressive of physical affection. Now’s your chance: Let Lemmy change your life!
Each year the Maryland SPCA helps more than 3,000 animals find homes.
In recent years, there have been several jobs whose responsibilities and burdens seem to require superhuman ability and patience. With the faltering economy and shrinking foundation dollars, the non-profit executive director certainly falls into that category. Advocates for Children and Youth, the only multi-issue, statewide, child advocacy non-profit in the state, just hired its fifth executive director: Rebecca (“Becky”) Wagner on April 4th. Wagner boasts years of experience working in the trenches for low-income families. She founded Rainbow Place Shelter for homeless women in Montgomery County, where she served as director. Previously the exec of Interfaith Works in Rockville, she enabled 35,000 people to break away from poverty by helping them obtain housing, clothing, and education. Washingtonian Magazine named her Washingtonian of the Year in 2008; in 2010, she ranked among The Rockville Gazette’s State of Maryland Top Fifty Power Players. ACY’s Honorary Chair, Susan Leviton, said they are excited to have Wagner as new addition because she is such a seasoned advocate. “Becky understands real people, real problems, and has worked on policies to make a difference,” says Leviton. When asked why now is the right time for a new director, Leviton replied, “Becky has tremendous experience working at the policy level and really knows what the needs of children and families are. She knows how we can work together to make things happen for them.” Leviton says they are hoping that, with Becky and new policies in place, ACY will be able eventually to expand help and awareness outside of Baltimore, throughout the entire state.