Johns Hopkins–funded projects begin making an impact in Baltimore communities

Johns Hopkins Innovation Fund for Community Safety awarded $6 million in seed money to community-based projects last summer

Grassroots projects to make Baltimore a safer and stronger community are moving forward after being awarded nearly $6 million in seed money by Johns Hopkins University this past summer.

The projects, supported by the Johns Hopkins Innovation Fund for Community Safety, represent creative, community-led approaches to reducing violence and enhancing well-being.

"These projects are off to a great start," said Alicia Wilson, vice president for economic development and co-director of the Innovation Fund. "It's exciting to see people hired, programs going, and outreach happening."

Learn more about the projects and their progress below.

McElderry Multiracial Organizing Project

Lead applicant: CASA

Since July, CASA has led efforts to increase community stability and connectedness between immigrant and African American neighbors in the McElderry Park and Library Square neighborhoods in East Baltimore. During the summer, the project held its first multiracial community event, a youth-led community cleanup in the areas surrounding Library Square.

In August, the project hosted a resource fair for adults and children and launched its Crossing Borders training with a total of 60 immigrant and nonimmigrant Black and Latino students recruited from after-school programs and through direct and partner outreach. After the school year began, the project used back-to-school programs and events to conduct community outreach and strengthen relationships with local schools. The project leaders also held more than a dozen orientations and workshops during the quarter and provided ongoing intake and case management for hundreds of residents on COVID-19 vaccination and eviction prevention.

Hopkins partners Tamar Mendelson, Bloomberg Professor of American Health and director of the Center for Adolescent Health, and Morgan Prioleau, a research assistant at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, have leveraged their networks, newsletters, and existing school partnerships to support the project's goals for community organizing, anti-racism and leadership training, and hosting informational workshops and youth programming.

In the coming months, CASA project leaders will partner with HeartSmiles and Citizens Policing Project to begin the process of implementing youth anti-racism/anti-bias trainings.

Block Captain Boot Camp

Lead applicant: No Boundaries Coalition

Block Captain Boot Camp is a project designed to encourage community engagement at the household level by training members of the community to be "block captains." Using the Innovation Fund award, these grassroots leaders have created and will expand their network of organized community members capable of advocating for and acting on behalf of their own needs. The first cohort of block captains began on Oct. 7, and participants have developed communication skills, explored modes of self-expression, participated in a virtual resource fair, and learned about power, privilege, and community organizing. Upon graduation, the block captains will work with their neighbors to design and implement a creative solution to a problem identified by their community.

Hopkins partner Richard Lofton, an assistant professor at the School of Education, will work with No Boundaries Coalition and Step Up Maryland to evaluate the progress of the project and make adjustments to the program and the curriculum to strengthen outcomes.

Abuse Intervention Supportive Services

Lead applicant: House of Ruth

House of Ruth works to increase engagement and reduce criminal recidivism for men and women who have criminal histories of intimate partner violence. In addition to continuing to implement their long-standing and evidence-based intervention for people who have perpetrated intimate partner violence, they will use the Innovation Fund to launch supportive services for their program participants. This expanded program serves men and women who have criminal histories of intimate partner violence and aims to protect their prior victims, children, future partners, and the community at large. Program funds will provide personnel, operating, consultation, client support, environmental improvements, and training.

Supporting this work is Hopkins partner Charvonne Holliday, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School, who will host listening sessions with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking individuals and analyze utilization and satisfaction data that will be used to guide the level of engagement. She has already begun work designing listening sessions for participants and recruiting research partners.

Safety at the Margins

Lead applicant: Charm City Care Connection

For years, Charm City Care Connection (CCCC) has been working to connect people who do drugs or engage in commercial sex work to the resources they need to survive. Through the Safety at the Margins project, their team aims to increase the presence of trained outreach staff in areas of the city with high levels of violence and drug use, connect people to critical supports, and participate in community-building with sex workers to build alternative public safety mechanisms. From July through September, CCCC saw an increase in the number of encounters to the drop-in center compared to previous months, with an average of 520 encounters per month at the space. The harm reduction services team distributed more than 30,000 syringes and 600 doses of naloxone per month on average through the drop-in center and outreach. The outreach team also distributed hot lunches, clothing, and wound care to the community and triaged clients to substance use treatment and case management services. The harm reduction team began to incorporate more in-person activities at the office, including women's-only spa day and monthly cookouts. The team is also in the process of expanding outreach services to sex workers in East Baltimore, having visited the Highlandtown and O'Donnell Heights neighborhoods to talk with people who engage in sex work to gauge their interest in the program, learn about the services needed, and ultimately build relationships with the community of sex workers in the area.

Over the next three years, CCCC staff and clients will work to create a plan for an ideal housing program, based on client needs. Hopkins partner Marissa Tan, a graduate student at the Bloomberg School, will recruit other grad students to engage in the effort to increase safety for people who use drugs and people who engage in sex work in East Baltimore.

Stable Homes, Safe Communities

Lead applicant: Pro Bono Resource Center

The Pro Bono Resource Center's Stable Homes, Safe Communities project aims to host 12 free legal clinics in targeted, low-income neighborhoods over the course of the year. The team, which has already hosted more than three clinics, connects clients to attorneys who focus on securing safe and affordable housing, preserving intergenerational resources, preventing homelessness, and stabilizing communities. During the first quarter of the grant term, PBRC clinic clients walked away with fully executed wills, advance medical directives, and financial powers of attorney, as well as tax credit applications and referrals to relevant legal or social services providers. The group also hosted presentations on tax credits and estate planning. In September, the group submitted testimony to the Baltimore City Council as part of its advocacy mission.

Hopkins partner Liam Haviv has played a multifaceted role in the project. Through his work with scholars, students, staff, and community organizations, Haviv, a Johns Hopkins alum, will help support the PBRC's outreach efforts, recruit volunteers, and build relationships between the university community and the PBRC.

Existential Determinants of Health

Lead applicant: WombWork Productions

WombWork and their partners will explore methods of increasing accessibility for behavioral health and addiction services and will develop creative ways of improving longitudinal health care relationships in communities experiencing poverty. The project will recruit servant-leaders to participate in mentorship activities and include storytelling and guided performing arts projects. During their first quarter, they focused on developing a strong curriculum, recruitment strategy, and infrastructure to support their novel Existential Determinants of Health program.

Challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a reevaluation of external programming, but the principal partners, including Hopkins partner Arjun Chanmugam, vice chair and professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine, have been engaged in weekly/biweekly strategic planning meetings since July. Partners have also engaged in relationship and coalition building with local community organizations and businesses such as the Men & Families Center, Sisters Together and Reaching (S.T.A.R.), the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore Brothers, SOURCE, and Fulton Bank.

Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective

Lead applicant: Job Opportunities Task Force

The Baltimore Legacy Builders Collection is a coalition of leaders from the Job Opportunities Task Force, B-360, the Be. Org and I AM MENtality. Through the Innovation Fund, this team of dynamic organizations is coming together to provide social emotional learning, STEM education, and workforce development programming to youths and young adults in Baltimore through youth mentoring, after-school programming, and direct engagement with dirt bike culture. The first quarter of the grant period was reserved for planning and identifying programmatic sites, and the project leaders from each partner organization met numerous times to outline roles and responsibilities, grant management, reporting, program development and delivery, and site partnerships.

Hopkins partner Selvi Rajagopal, an assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, will leverage her research in adolescent health to develop a data-driven approach to serving at-risk youth, improving public safety outcomes, and increasing long-term success outcomes for these targeted communities.

Good Harvest Training Program

Lead applicant: St. Vincent De Paul

The Good Harvest training program combines classroom instruction with real-world culinary experience to provide occupational skills to Baltimore youth not in school or work. During the first quarter of the grant, Good Harvest hired its culinary education lead, reviewed and adapted its program, and began recruitment for its first cohort, which began in November. In addition to new assessment methods for program applicants and customized teaching tools, Good Harvest will offer office hours for small group and individual tutoring on Fridays.

Hopkins partner Mindi Levin, an associate scientist at the Bloomberg School and founder and director of the community service center SOURCE, is researching and developing youth-focused interventions that complement the Good Harvest program. She is also developing a youth-needs assessment for new enrollees and is working to develop methods of recruiting and retaining participants. She will recruit a graduate student employee for the program to unite community-building and learning opportunities for Johns Hopkins students.