Young people don’t typically have the responsibility of deciding how more than half a million dollars gets spent. But a Baltimore organization is giving them a chance to allocate grants to nonprofits addressing the issues facing their peers in the city.

Fifteen people between the ages of 16 and 25 recently awarded $525,000 in grants to 10 local organizations as part of the Youth Grantmakers program, an initiative of Baltimore’s Promise.

“This is something new. We are reengineering the philanthropic industry by having us at the table making the decisions,” said Montaze Cooper, 22, one of the Youth Grantmakers. “We as young people have a clear understanding of what the needs are in our communities, and I am very confident about the 10 grantees we chose.”

Baltimore’s Promise — the local affiliate of the national nonprofit network, StriveTogether — was launched in 2012 to bring together various entities such as school districts, foundations and other groups to collaborate on ways to support young people.

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In 2021, the organization published research showing there are four times more programs for little kids than older kids, and a new conversation began, CEO Julia Baez said.

“What we saw is that when you get older in Baltimore, this city disinvests in you. We wanted to put young people at the center of decision making, but also really wanted to create more opportunities for all young people to have access to the resources they were seeking,” she said.

Last year, 15 young people were selected for the Youth Grantmakers project. The group gathered for the first time in May, and then spent the next five months developing funding priorities, a review rubric and a formal request for proposals.

They identified the following five focus areas as high-priority needs for young adults around the city: mental health resources, safe spaces, mentoring or “positive intergenerational” relationship building, academic tutoring and career exposure opportunities.

Members of the Youth Grantmakers. The group, which is made up of people between the ages of 16 and 25, recently awarded $525,000 in grants to 10 local organizations. (Courtesy of Baltimore's Promise)

After releasing the request in September, reviewing 68 applications and conducting site visits, the Youth Grantmakers named their grantees in November, which included the following:

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“We talked extensively about what types of organizations we would choose, like if they were emerging or not, if they could provide things like transportation or food to the youth that they serve, and we scoped out which grantees had the most passion and didn’t treat their work like a 9-to-5,” said Cesia Calero, 25, another Youth Grantmaker.

One of the biggest factors, she emphasized, was transportation.

“Baltimore City transportation sucks! And we wanted to make sure that organizations really provided that help with Ubers and public transit,” she said.

The grantees, mostly smaller organizations, will put the funds towards their budgets, which range from $40,000 to just under $1 million. Baltimore’s Promise estimates the grants will serve more than 400 additional young people between the ages 14-24.

“Baltimore’s Promise is committed to improving outcomes for Baltimore’s youth by creating more and better opportunities for — and with — older youth themselves,” Baez said. “We believe that working together helps us support higher-quality programs because youth can identify the ones most aligned to their needs.”

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The grantmakers received close to $6 million in requests, which they said “demonstrated the need for more investment in older youth in Baltimore,” according to Baltimore’s Promise.

Nearly all of the money for the inaugural $1.3 million Youth Grantmakers program comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation also contributed $100,000, Baez said.

Aside from the donations given to the grantees, funding for the program goes toward operation costs and incentives to the grantmakers themselves, including a $6,000 stipend, counseling and housing assistance on a case-by-case basis.

The current group of Youth Grantmakers will continue to work with grantees until their cohort’s program ends in December 2023. The second group is expected to be selected in the summer of 2023.

“I hope through this initiative we take youth more seriously,” Calero said. “This city is full of talented youth and we need more programs that recognize that and want to support us.”

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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