Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

As veteran staffers Tyson Garith and Karen DeCamp depart, each leaves a powerful legacy

 

Even as Strong City celebrates moving into our beautiful new space, it is a bittersweet time as we say farewell to two of our longest-tenured staff members: Director of Operations Tyson W. Garith, and Senior Portfolio Manager and Director of Community Programs Karen DeCamp. Each of these leaders has spent almost 13 years with Strong City, and each leaves a legacy of major accomplishments.

Tyson likes to say, “I’m only here at Strong City because some woman fell down the stairs.” That unknown person’s mishap launched Tyson – two days after he arrived in Baltimore from Utah in February 2007 – on a trajectory that took him far from his early dream of an acting career. The temp agency where he had applied told him the data entry job he was assigned to had fallen through, but they had an emergency opening due to an injury, and he could spend a few days archiving files at a nonprofit organization in Charles Village.

The name of the place? Greater Homewood Community Corporation. Tyson said yes to the job – and finished a task expected to take multiple days by 3 that afternoon.

Six weeks later, Tyson was hired as Administrative Assistant and then, in rapid succession over the following four years: Office Manager (during which he became AmeriCorps VISTA Supervisor), Assistant Director of Administration, and Director of Administration. From 2011 to 2017, Tyson served as Director of Partnerships and Business Services, a title that changed to Director of Project Services following a staffing restructure. For his last seven months at Strong City, he served as Director of Operations.

As he contemplates his next career move and reflects on the past 13 years, Tyson’s proudest achievement is his leadership of Strong City’s fiscal sponsorship program, which has had a major effect on how Strong City carries out its mission. Through fiscal sponsorship, Strong City provides supportive and back-office services to community-based initiatives and leaders, and as the program has grown to include more than 100 initiatives, Tyson has emerged as a leading national expert on “Model A,” or comprehensive, fiscal sponsorship. A highlight of Tyson’s career came in 2015, when he was selected to participate in the highly competitive American Express Leadership Academy, a nationwide program focused on providing development to rising executives in the nonprofit sector.

“In July of 2011, we were managing $700,000 on behalf of 35 projects,” Tyson reflects. “In July of 2019, we were managing on the order of $14 million on behalf of 130 initiatives. That growth is all because, in 2011, Karen Stokes said, ‘We need to invest in providing these back-office services’ and put me at the helm of it. And so, along with [Budget Manager] Todd Elliott, I built this business.

“Fiscal sponsorship may be a niche field, but it is, I believe, the future of the nonprofit landscape,” he adds.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of fiscal sponsorship, Tyson says his time at Strong City has taught him a great deal about the pernicious effects of racism, and the power of privilege –  which works in his favor as a white man, but against him as someone who is gay.

“Thanks to Strong City’s commitment to operate as an anti-racist organization, and my growing understanding … I’m so much more cognizant of structural racism and how white privilege impacts my life, and the work that’s necessary to be an anti-racist operator or ally to people suffering from racism and disenfranchisement,” he says.

As far as what’s next, Tyson is not certain. But he will be taking inspiration from the hundreds of community and fiscally sponsored project leaders he has worked with over the years.

“I’ve seen hundreds of people literally translate their inspiration into real, viable ideas – organizations made practically out of thin air and somebody’s personal stake on an issue. Plus, a dash of fiscal sponsorship, of course. After taking inspiration from so many amazing project leaders over the years, I’m going to try to take some of that inspiration and use it for myself and my family,” says Tyson.

The same year Tyson arrived, Strong City recruited  another newcomer, who came to work on community and school strengthening and would  leave an indelible mark on the organization over more than a decade. Although in truth, Karen DeCamp was no “newcomer” to Strong City, since in her role as volunteer President of the York Road Partnership she was deeply familiar with the nonprofit’s commitment to North-Central Baltimore neighborhoods.

Karen, a longtime Baltimorean with a background in running door-to-door campaigns for environmental issues and as a public-school teacher, worked with community leaders and nonprofits like Strong City to revitalize York Road neighborhoods.  Joining the staff at Strong City, she juggled her job and community commitments with raising her two children, both Baltimore City public schools students.

She most recently split her time at Strong City between supervising direct service programming (including at the 29th Street Community Center and The Club at Collington Square) and overseeing a portfolio of some of our larger fiscally sponsored projects. Her passion has been place-based community building, working with communities to organize and mobilize collective action.

Karen said she is grateful to Strong City CEO Karen D. Stokes, “for giving me the latitude to take on community organizing and coalition work even though we didn’t necessarily always have a big funder supporting it, but because it needed to be done and communities asked us to help out.”

During almost 13 years at Strong City, many of Karen’s accomplishments have been related to schools and education. As an organizer, she staffed the community campaign to rebuild the Waverly Elementary Middle School – Baltimore City’s first newly built public school in decades. And as a leader of the Baltimore Education Coalition, she helped mobilize a grassroots effort that reversed over $200 million in state cuts to education funds and eventually won a $1 billion commitment to renovating or rebuilding dozens of badly needed school buildings across the city.

Recounting other highlights of her career, Karen notes: “With the amazing team here, I’ve been involved with 11 Neighborhood Institutes, dozens of block captain trainings, hundreds of community meetings, the opening of the 29th Street Community Center after the City shut down the Barclay Rec Center, and helped provide critical support for the York Road Partnership’s work to unite neighborhoods divided by structural racism. I learned so much here at Strong City and from so many unsung and unpaid heroes in Baltimore neighborhoods who work every day to make Baltimore stronger.”

She adds, “I am especially thankful that Karen Stokes also fell in love with The Club at Collington Sqaure, a critically important afterschool program near Strong City’s new offices, and gave the greenlight for us to take on operations of it, the sustainability of which will be essential to the success of Strong City in East Baltimore.”

In her new position as Director of Homeownership and Family Stability at Southeast Community Development Corporation, based in Highlandtown, Karen says she is returning “to my work at the intersection of education and community development.”

Strong City thanks these two extraordinary leaders, who together contributed more than a quarter-century of commitment to this organization and the communities we serve. We will miss their dedication, professionalism, and passion, but we know we will continue to benefit from their legacy here every day.