Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Strong City Welcomes 8 New Fiscally Sponsored Projects as Part of First ‘Start Up Track’

Strong City recently welcomed eight new fiscally sponsored projects as part of our first-ever “Start Up Track.” The new projects in our 2019 Spring Start Up Track are: ART Inside/Out, Arts + Parks, BLISS Meadows, The Charin Foundation (Take the Lead), ConnectED, Higher Ground Harm Reduction, the Maryland Trans Resilience Conference, and Women With CLASS.

The Start Up Track  improves on Strong City’s former method of bringing in new fiscally sponsored projects that are in their early stages, are led by folks that are new to nonprofit management, and have little or no funding.

Artist and educator Nikia Kigler enjoys working with adults and is drawn to nontraditional educational settings, so perhaps it’s no surprise that her fiscally sponsored project, ART Inside/Out, helps incarcerated people to find their creative side. She says her prison-based arts program “creates a safe space for adults to create art within the walls of the institution, with the hope that they may grow artistically, spiritually, and intellectually through the art-making process.” Nikia currently works with male inmates at the Patuxent Institution and is hoping to expand on that work in the future. An artist and MICA graduate, she got the idea for ART Inside/Out after she began volunteering inside a prison at the suggestion of a friend who was incarcerated. She hopes that Strong City will open doors to funding as well as help her understand the business of how nonprofits work. She wants to eventually develop a curriculum that she can sell online to create a sustainable funding stream.

Arts + Parks, led by Elise Victoria, Justin Nethercut, Terrell Brown, and Jake Balter operates in underserved communities in Baltimore to address the gross disparities in access to green space and public art in urban areas. Working hand in hand with communities, Arts + Parks is committed to using public street art projects and intentional landscaping to bring back meaning, pride, and beauty to forgotten spaces and struggling communities.

BLISS Meadows, led by Atiya Wells and Keiron George, is an initiative to create equitable access to green space through the formation of a 2.5-acre community farm adjoining 7.5 acres of additional open space in Baltimore’s Frankford neighborhood. BLISS stands for Baltimore Living in Sustainable Simplicity. The long-term vision includes farm animals, native plant meadows, food production, children’s activities, demonstration gardens, and environmental education.

The Charin Foundation (Take the Lead), led by Meizona Willis, will develop youth as leaders and bolster the teaching profession in Baltimore City by pairing middle and high school interns in Title 1 schools with mentor teachers, where the interns will train in small-group interventions and learn to tutor younger students. This programming will support students and teachers with affordable individualized learning opportunities and create early job experience for the interns.

Chana Feldman, the leader of ConnectED, says her project combines her skills as an educator with her longstanding interest in supporting Jewish seniors in the Baltimore area. ConnectED aims to bring together young people and older residents in the Jewish community to form relationships based on caring and trust. “Children, young students benefit from developing trusted relationships, and seniors are a good candidate group for this – they really benefit from human connections,” Chana says. As a small organization – just her and her husband – Chana says being part of Strong City will allow ConnectED to apply for grants and other funding they couldn’t otherwise access.

Higher Ground Harm Reduction, led by Christine Rodriguez, proposes to increase the ability of harm reductionists, syringe service programs, community-based naloxone distribution programs, drug users’ unions, and communities of people who use drugs and/or engage in sex work to prepare for, respond to, and recover after disasters, particularly in the event of systems failures. The geographic scope is the United States and Territories, with future potential for tailored aspects of programming to be dedicated locally in Baltimore, where the project is based/founded.

The Maryland Trans Resilience Conference is the first effort in Maryland to create an annual event run by transgender people to address their needs around health and wellness. “The point of the conference is to create a gathering, networking space for trans people in Maryland, and for it to be trans led – because many things for the trans community and not led by trans people,” explained Lee Blinder, one of the project’s leaders. The Conference in its first year will include a focus on health, wellness, legal, social, and emotional issues. The need for this is urgent, said Londyn Smith-De Richelieu, another of the project’s leaders, because “trans people are dying, especially black and brown people in Baltimore.” The other leaders of the project are Dre Cortez, Lily Amara Pastor, and Ngaire Rose Philip.

Women with CLASS (Character, Leadership, Achievement, Strength, Success) is a leadership program that consists of active participation workshops, team building activities, mentor meet-ups, and a closing ceremony. Katia Fortune started the program to address the need for more leadership development for high school-aged students in Baltimore City. Women with CLASS is targeted toward young women (grades 9-12) who live in Baltimore and want to become leaders in society but may struggle with access to leadership programs for various reasons.