MacKenzie Scott was a child of privilege, and educated at Princeton where she studied creative writing under Toni Morrison. She was previously married to someone named Jeff Bezos and together they started a company in Seattle called Amazon that has done quite well in the few decades it has existed.

Now an accomplished novelist, one of the world’s wealthiest women and a famous philanthropist, Scott has distributed her fortune methodically, leaning hard into social causes. Her dollars have flowed directly into Baltimore — and more is on the way.

Scott’s organization Yield Giving on Tuesday announced new awards of $2 million each to local organizations including Marian House, Wide Angle Youth Media, the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation and the Baltimore Tree Trust.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Katie Allston, president and CEO of Marian House. “We’ve never received an unrestricted gift of this size.”

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The Catholic organization aids women with substance abuse and mental health issues, many of whom are transitioning from life in prison. The award is almost half of the organization’s annual operating budget, and while not a complete surprise, was not something Allston was counting on.

Marian House applied for a grant through Yield Giving’s Open Call program, which allows organizations to request and apply for grants. Scott’s foundation typically does not invite requests, instead investigating and choosing on its own whom to give to. Open Call promised to distribute $1 million grants to 250 organizations. More than 6,000 applied, Allston said. Getting double the amount originally pledged by Yield Giving was a pleasant surprise to Allston, who has led Marian House for about 17 years.

“We did know we got through the second round,” Allston said. “I did not make any assumptions that we would be chosen. It’s such a dream come true. Knowing how thoughtful she [Scott] is in her process, this speaks a lot to the work we do.”

Wide Angle was already preparing to open a new headquarters in fall 2024. The organization is the lead tenant of Seawall Development’s new Service Center, a mixed-use hub for civic engagement in Remington. Wide Angle’s new 9,000 square feet of space at the service center includes learning labs, a production facility, a community gallery and gathering spaces.

The nonprofit is planning to spend about half of the grant money on wages and stipends over the next three years for the youth it serves, said Moira Fratantuono, a spokeswoman for Wide Angle.

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“If we’re not compensating young people for their time, it’s a lot harder for them to invest in themselves,” Fratantuono said.

Marian House was founded in 1982 by the Sisters of Mercy and the School Sisters of Notre Dame to help formerly incarcerated women transition into a stable life. The house has served more than 4,600 women and their children since then, expanding its services to include outpatient substance abuse treatment and permanent subsidized housing.

The core of its operation, however, remains what it calls its transitional housing for women with histories of trauma who struggle with behavioral and mental health. The organization cares for about 55 women at any given time, who live in one of its seven transitional homes in the Pen Lucy and Better Waverly neighborhoods. Four are rowhomes, two former convents, and one a former rectory.

While technically an executive, Allston tells people she is a social worker when asked what she does for a living. In fact, she earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, specializing in addiction. Before joining Marian House, she managed HIV outreach services for Project PLASE, or People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment, and homeless services for the YWCA, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Marian House has not come up with a firm plan for the $2 million, but intends to use it very judiciously.

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“We’re going to take some time and certainly reflect on what we’ve done to get this kind of recognition and take that into consideration,” Allston said. “We’re going to take the time and really consider how to make the biggest impact.”

“It’ll be an amazing experience,” she added. “We have a few ideas. Money is never the only thing you need to get something done. Even having the money, we would need partners, and we would need expertise in the room. But it’s all about what the women need.”

Marian House and Wide Angle are not the first Baltimore-based beneficiaries of Scott’s generosity. In 2022, the Baltimore nonprofit Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service received $15 million from Scott, the largest single donation the organization had received to that point, The Baltimore Sun reported. She has also reportedly donated $85 million to three historically Black universities in Maryland.

For Nichole Battle, the CEO of GEDCO, which provides affordable housing and support services to older adults and formerly homeless individuals, the selection came as a surprise.

“This is huge for a non-profit like ours doing the work that we do in Baltimore. Operational support is often an afterthought for a lot of funders,” Battle said.

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According to Forbes, Scott is worth $35.6 billion with a 4% stake in Amazon. She has given away $14.4 billion since 2020 after she pledged to donate at least half her wealth in her lifetime. Her donations come with no strings attached.

Wide Angle Youth Media and The Baltimore Banner are members of the Baltimore News Collaborative, a project exploring the challenges and successes experienced by young people in Baltimore. The collaborative is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.