Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

New Chief of Staff Reggie Davis Connects Inner Workings to Mission Achievement

Strong City Baltimore helps people and organizations to be more effective and efficient – through human development at the Adult Learning Center, skill sharing at Neighborhood Institute, fiscal sponsorship of more than 100 community-based projects, and in many other ways.

But how does Strong City itself operate more effectively and efficiently?

Enter Reggie Davis. Reggie, who joined Strong City in November in the newly created position of Chief of Staff, brings a wealth of experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. Reggie has been involved in Baltimore at the community level even before he moved to the city three years ago, thanks to his work with the local chapter of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, where he leads its political engagement and public policy advocacy efforts. In addition, he led his chapter’s community service initiatives across Baltimore City. He is also a  board member of Baltimore-based Child First Authority, and a board member of the Hollins Roundhouse Community Association.

Reggie, who turns 37 in March, grew up in Chicago. He holds a degree in political science and a certification in nonprofit leadership and management from the University of the District of Columbia, and is an M.A. candidate in Public Management at the Johns Hopkins University. As policy director for the National Human Services Assembly, he oversaw the policy research and advocacy efforts on the federal level. At the National Minority AIDS Council, Reggie managed a national capacity building program meeting the organizational and leadership development needs of government and nonprofits on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As Strong City’s Chief of Staff, Reggie is the top deputy to CEO Karen D. Stokes and oversees the organization’s day-to-day operations. We caught up with Reggie recently – not easy to do, given his wide range of responsibilities – to chat about his role, his vision for Strong City, and what inspires him.

Strong City: This is the first time Strong City has had a “Chief of Staff.” What does the position entail?

Reggie Davis: In the nonprofit sector, you don’t often see the title “Chief of Staff” except in some of your larger nonprofits. I largely see the Chief of Staff position as being the cheerleader for our people and our processes. It’s looking across the organization, the systems, the operations – really focusing inward to answer the question: How do we support the mission?

SC: What’s an example of that?

RD: One example – I’ve been thinking about our work with the fiscally sponsored projects to ask: Is there a system in place that helps us meet the internal needs of finance and development, that also supports our projects and addresses many of their needs? Can we better use technology to provide more support to people? Another piece I’m working on is: Do we have the right policies in place, and are our practices aligned with our policies?

SC: You were formerly the Director of Public Policy for a national association of human services nonprofits, and you’ve managed contracts with the U.S. Department of Labor for a minority-owned small business. Chief of Staff at Strong City seems pretty different from either of those. What made you want to work here?

RD: I moved to Baltimore three years ago but was connected here for more than five years because of my fraternity. As a homeowner in Baltimore, I wanted to be part of the solution in my community and city. I was familiar with Strong City’s work around community development and fiscal sponsorship – in fact, I recommended to other organizations Strong City’s fiscal sponsorship – as well as Neighborhood Institute. For me, the mission, the purpose, matters. I see this position as a great chance to support the wonderful work this staff is doing under Karen Stokes’ leadership – to get to stop and say that the work you’re doing on a daily basis is connected to building better neighborhoods and people across Baltimore

SC: You arrived at Strong City at a pivot point in the organization’s history – just weeks before the move to the Hoen Building in East Baltimore. How does it feel to be helping to lead the organization at such a momentous time?

RD: We’re at a point where we’re turning the page. We need to spend time doing “inside work” to strengthen some systems, build the capacity of staff, and be able to tell the story internally and externally of what we’re doing, so that funders, partners, and projects all know our vision for the future. It’s a process I’m still getting my head around.

SC: What does the near-term future hold for Strong City – where will we be a year or two from now?

RD: A year from now, I want people to see in Strong City a demonstrated commitment to getting back to the basics – delivering a set of products and services with excellence and commitment. Success, for me, means this is a great place to work, we’re responsive to stakeholders, and we are moving the needle – as complicated and challenging as it is, making stronger neighborhoods and people. This cannot be accomplished by one person, but requires a group effort. We’re going to need the whole community to help us get there. From staff to community leaders.

SC: What’s the best thing about working here?

RD: I’ve had lots of conversations, and one thing folks have told me about the staff here – they say the great thing about Strong City is its people are passionate and dedicated to the work. Strong City has not lost its community development focus even as it has strengthened other parts of its work, like fiscal sponsorship. We’re able to support the full range of our mission, and that’s because of the great people here bolstered by our partners across the city.

SC: You have a super busy job, so I have to ask: What do you do for down time?

RD: Balance is important! I spend time listening to music, visiting friends and family members – traveling back to Chicago to see my mom, father, and brother. Working out is a great stress reliever, so is music. What I listen to varies – sometimes jazz, other times classical or neo-soul. This past week I was listening to jazz, then gospel. And the other kind of music for me is silence: just to be still sometimes.


Full List of Tracks and Workshops Announced for Neighborhood Institute 2020

Neighborhood Institute, Strong City Baltimore’s annual skill-building conference for neighborhood leaders, activists, and nonprofit professionals, is just five weeks away! This year we have a new venue, new partners, and a program that reflects these extraordinary times for our city and nation. With election season in full swing and the Census count kicking into high gear, Strong City is joining forces with other local organizations around the theme of “Building Civic Power.” 

The 12th annual Neighborhood Institute takes place Saturday, March 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Baltimore City Community College. It will feature more than 40 workshops, trainings, and discussions organized into 11 tracks including “Civic Engagement, Civic Power,” “Telling Baltimore’s Story,” “Racial Justice and Equity,” and “Revitalizing Neighborhoods.” Several ticket options are available, all of which including breakfast and lunch. Capacity is limited, so don’t wait – buy your ticket today! 

Attendees at Neighborhood Institute 2020 can learn how to fight blight in their neighborhood, how to raise funds for their organization, how the ballot initiative process works, and many other useful skills. There will be panel discussions on “Building Civic Power in Post-Uprising Baltimore” and “The Future of Transit.” And our partners at Baltimore City’s Census team, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, the No Boundaries Coalition, and Baltimore Votes will train attendees to engage with the tools of democracy. The day’s activities will conclude with a rousing call to action by retiring City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. 

“Every year, people come to Neighborhood Institute to meet other local leaders and learn how to address challenges in their communities,” said Mike Cross-Barnet, organizer of programming for the event. “This year, we are also taking advantage of the moment we find ourselves in – a historic election and the decennial Census – to join with many partners to build democracy by encouraging civic participation and engagement at all levels.” 

At this year’s conference, we are also releasing “Building Blocks: Stories of Neighborhood Transformation,” a book we wrote that offers inspiring stories and useful advice from successful Strong City-supported neighborhood organizing efforts in Baltimore. There will be a conversation featuring some of the neighborhood leaders whose work is chronicled in the book. 

Here is the full listing of workshops and conversations at Neighborhood Institute 2020Keep an eye on our social media for workshop descriptions and more information! 

Track: Activating Communities 

  • Building a Robust Block Captain Program 
  • Increasing Resident Involvement in Community-Based Associations 
  • Power of Play: Lessons From the Eutaw Place Play Days 
  • Using Data to Create Neighborhood Action Plans

Track: Civic Engagement, Civic Power 

  • Blueprint for Baltimore: Using Community-Owned Data for Organizing and Advocacy  
  • Census 2020: Everyone Counts in Baltimore 
  • Civic Culture in Hard to Persuade Communities 
  • Plan Your Party at the Polls!  

Track: Diversity and Inclusion 

  • Advocating for Families of Children With Disabilities 
  • Engagement and Partnership With the Latino Community  
  • The Reframing Initiative: Changing How We Talk About Human Service Work 
  • Working With and for LGBTQ People in Baltimore  

Track: Future of Transit 

  • The Ballot Initiative As a Tool for Direct Democracy: Creating a Regional Transit Authority 
  • Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety Through Art and Engineering 
  • Transit Equity in Baltimore: Conversation  

Track: Get the Job Done! 

  • Being Legit: Ten Ways to Keep Your Nonprofit in Compliance
  • Bracing for Kirwan: How To Understand and Engage With Baltimore’s Budget
  • Do Your Job! Getting City Agencies to Respond in a Timely and Effective Manner 
  • Financial Oversight for Nonprofit Boards 
  • How to Use Strategic Planning  

Track: Making It Work 

  • Achieving Work/Life Balance 
  • Barriers Facing Those Returning From Incarceration 
  • Tackling Long-Term Unemployment in Baltimore: How You Can Help 
  • Understanding Baltimore’s Workforce System  

Track: Pathways and Tools for Better Living 

  • A Community Approach to Improving Birth Outcomes 
  • Preserving and Protecting Baltimore’s Green Spaces 
  • The Reframing Initiative: Changing How We Talk About Human Service Work 
  • Using the Maryland Public Information Act to Access Public Records

Track: Racial Equity and Justice 

  • Defining Equity in Neighborhood Revitalization Planning 
  • Fair Housing Enforcement As a Tool for Advancing Equity 
  • How White People Can Fight Racism and Avoid Involving the Police 
  • Truth-Telling and Healing as Part of an Anti-Racist Agenda  

Track: Revitalizing Neighborhoods 

  • Marketing and Restoring Historic Properties: What Communities Should Know 
  • Neighborhood Placemaking 
  • Re-creating Vacant Lots As an Asset in the Community’s Vision 
  • Vacancy and Code Enforcement From a Community Perspective

Track: Stronger Nonprofits and Stronger Businesses 

  • Finding the Funds: State Resources for Greening and Revitalization 
  • Grow the Local Economy By Investing in Local Business 
  • Hacking the Grant Narrative: Competing for Funding 
  • Introduction to Grant Writing

Track: Telling Baltimore’s Story 

  • “Building Blocks” Goes Live: A Conversation About Neighborhood Transformation 
  • Five Years Later: A Panel Talk on Building Civic Power in Post-Uprising Baltimore 
  • How Negative Narratives Hurt Communities; How New Ones Can Help 
  • Theater-Based Community Building 

Neighborhood Institute began in 2007 in a church basement with a handful of workshops and a few dozen participants. It has since grown into the city’s premier annual training and networking event for neighborhood leaders, drawing more than 300 participants from all over Baltimore, and beyond. Get your ticket here. 

 


After more than four years of planning, staff move into the Hoen Lithograph Building

We made it!  

More than four years of preparation and partnership paid off two weeks ago when Strong City officially reopened in our new space. It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago, the Hoen Lithograph Building was an unfinished shell.  

The space is already helping us create a collaborative culture, with staff zipping back and forth between the Adult Learning Center at the south end of the building and the operational offices at the north end. We feel healthier thanks to our adjustable standing desks, natural light, and water bottle filling stations. And, we have been out and about getting to know the neighborhood and exploring lunch options. Soon the space will be used to support even more communitybuilding efforts.  

Come see for yourself, and learn more about how we are connecting the physical space to our mission of building and strengthening neighborhoods and people. Sign up for a onehour tour.

Many hands went into making a project like this possible, and we don’t have enough space to thank everyone, but we want to lift up a few folks who went above and beyond. Our architect, Ziger/Snead LLP. The team at Cross Street Partners who helped us navigate a project at this scale. Markus Saelzer, our IT Administrator who personally moved all our computers and put in long hours troubleshooting the technology. Dana Murphy who, as our project manager, created a system to make sure that everything ended up where it was supposed to be.  

Thank you as well to the many funders who also believed in this vision, particularly the City and State, the Lockhart Vaughn Foundation, and the David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation.  

We were also glad to see a lot of our old furniture go to other nonprofits so it could continue to support efforts to improve Baltimore. Stay tuned for those stories.  

Despite incredible support, we are still about $10,000 short of the cost of finishing and furnishing the building. Give today and be a part of the exciting work yet to come!  


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.


January News Bites and Events from the Strong City Community

Have You Read Our 2019 Impact Report? 

Take a look back at the impact of our work over fiscal year 2019, and get a preview of our exciting new journey of moving to East Baltimore. 

READ THE REPORT 

Strong City in the News 

ICYMI: In the Baltimore Sun, columnist Jacques Kelly declares Strong City steps boldly in its move to Baltimore’s east side,” while our own CEO Karen D. Stokes notes that “Strong City is getting a new home, but its mission is the same. 

READ KELLY’S COLUMN 

READ STOKES’ OP-ED  

Call Now to Register for ALC Classes 

There’s still time! Late registration for the Adult Learning Center’s Winter/Spring term will take place January 20-24. You must call 410-261-3524 to make an appointment to register.  

MORE INFO  

Free Chess Lessons From the Board Room 

All levels welcome: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Every 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saturday, beginning Jan. 18. At Pennsylvania Avenue Mainstreet (inside The Avenue Market) 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. Free. 

MORE INFO

Census Job Fair on January 25 

A Census Job Fair will take place Saturday, January 25, 12:30-2:30 p.m., at the Southeast Anchor Library, 3601 Eastern Ave. Strong City is a member of the Census Complete Count Committee, a co-presenter of this event. Apply for a Census job on the spot! Spanish speakers welcome.  

MORE INFO 

The Be. Org’s Sneaker Ball  

Join nearly 500 supporters January 31 at 8 p.m. as The Be. Org celebrates its six-year anniversary and commemorates years of impact in Baltimore. Funds raised will be used to further support its mission and programs. Tickets $125. 

GET TICKETS