ARPA Insight Stories: Empowering Baltimore’s Youth Post-Pandemic: The Essential Role of Engagement Programs

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Empowering Baltimore’s Youth Post-Pandemic: The Essential Role of Engagement Programs

Investing in Programs that Reconnect, Rebuild, and Develop Resilience in Baltimore’s Youth

As Baltimore emerges from the pandemic's shadows, addressing youth challenges, from social isolation to mental health strains, is crucial. Amidst adversity, Baltimore's investment in local youth engagement programs offers hope, assisting those facing heightened mental health issues. According to a survey on youth mental health conducted by the National Library of Medicine, the pandemic has exacerbated issues like anxiety, depression, and loneliness among young people surveyed. However, youth engagement programs may promote well-being and resilience through structured activities, peer support, and resource access.

These programs have become more essential than ever after the pandemic. They serve as catalysts for social reconnection, offering youth the chance to rediscover their communities, forge meaningful relationships, and reignite their sense of belonging. After months of isolation, these programs provide invaluable opportunities for youth to rebuild their social networks.

"Our young people are Baltimore's future, and we must devote our resources, time, and energy into making sure that they have the opportunities they deserve to grow and develop into their best selves," said Mayor Brandon M. Scott.

In 2022, Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced four rounds of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant awards from the Mayor's Office of Recovery Programs to nonprofit organizations. Funding rounds focused on several areas of need in Baltimore, including youth services, part of the “prioritizing our youth” part of the Scott Administration's priority pillars outlined in the Mayor's Action Plan.

Meet Zanes E. Cypress, Jr. | Center Director | Omega Baltimore Foundation

Omega Baltimore Foundation, Inc. received ARPA funding to manage and operate the Easterwood Recreation Center in West Baltimore to mitigate the historical lack of neighborhood recreational programming. Over 200 kids have come through the Easterwood Recreation Center as a YouthWorks worksite. Last year, Easterwood hired 6 youths with ARPA funding. Youthworks is an ARPA partner.

“ARPA helped fund the salaries of the center’s staff, the ‘Fathers in the Hood’ Basketball League program (benefitting 80 youth), and the flag football league (benefitting 120 youth). ARPA also funded the Spring, Summer, and Fall STEAM STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and math—programs (benefitting 23 youth) while at the same time allowing us to keep the doors open to provide a safe space for the youth in the community. Every day, we serve the youth of several schools— Billie Holiday Elementary School, Matthew A Henson Elementary, Katherine Johnson Global Academy, Carver Vocational School, and Frederick Douglass High School—as a space for studying and socializing,” Cypress said.

“ARPA funding was a godsend! ARPA put us back where we needed to be, being able to staff and fund our STEAM programs for the entire year. My job is to be here every day for the youth, and ARPA funding helped me be here and provide for the young people in this community that needed this rec center.”

Meet Jen Rifkin | Executive Director | Volo Kids Foundation

Volo Kids Foundation supports the operation of the BActive program, which provides Baltimore kids with access to quality, structured sports programming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. BActive-facilitated sports clinics teach communication, body positivity, and confidence-building lessons through sports, focusing on trauma-informed care. BActive connects kids, particularly those in recreation deserts, with ongoing Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) programming.

“Volo Kids Foundation launched our programs in Baltimore in 2015 with the idea that every kid deserves to play, but a myriad of barriers stand in the way, and the pandemic added to that list. So, in 2020, we stopped in-person programming and pivoted to a virtual model. In 2021, we knew that to grow our impact during the pandemic, we needed to apply for additional funding and build partnerships. ARPA funding helped our growth trajectory and partnership building because much of this funding is tied to working with BCRP.”

“ARPA funding has allowed us to work with BCRP on a much larger scale by activating staffing and programming at some of the sites we identified with BCRP guidance as places that needed our support. Volo was running between 15 and 20 programs per season spread across several communities in Baltimore, mainly in the east and the south. With ARPA funding, we've bumped up to running 55 programs per season. Before ARPA, right before the pandemic, we had about 5000 kids a year registered, and now we're looking much closer to 10,000,” Rifkin said.

“It's worth highlighting that ARPA funding allowed us to scale, examine the infrastructure, our coaches, our volunteers, and our curriculum, and still provide the programming VOLO is promising families. ARPA has allowed us to elevate how we train everybody on-site to work with the kids. Our BActive program has volunteer and coach training, so the goal is to ensure that the coaches on-site are quality coaches and deliver the curriculum and instruction our kids deserve.”

Meet Robin Truiett-Theodorson | Executive Director| Banner Neighborhoods Community Corporation

Banner Neighborhoods received ARPA funding to renovate their Preston Street classroom space. The funding will also support academic tutoring, mentoring, program facilitators, sports coaches, and other support staff dedicated to providing services to youth, including students experiencing psychological or behavioral difficulties.

“ARPA funding has allowed us to transform our space for the youth in our community. We can now host programming like youth gaming tournaments and meeting spaces for community residents in East Baltimore. Most dramatically, we have transformed our loading dock into a basketball court, which could also be used for exercise and yoga classes. We plan on using this space to provide a safe space for the youth of our community for many years.”

Meet Moira Fratantuono | Development and Communications Director | Wide Angle Youth Media

Wide Angle Youth Media received ARPA funding to support more than 200 Baltimore youth (ages 10-24) participation in WAYM’s core programs. These programs teach students to use state-of-the-art technology, embark on a pathway toward career readiness, and receive wrap-around support. Wide Angle Youth Media received a 2023 Digital Equity Fund Grant for education and outreach to address the digital divide. The DEF is an ARPA-funded initiative through the Office of Broadband and Digital Equity (BDE), a Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology division.

“ARPA funding has been supporting us for three years. Each year, it helps support our Core Programs, meaning our programs have more than 20 hours of engagement for students over an extended period of time. Those Core Programs span all middle school intensive courses with workshops based in our headquarters. Middle schoolers first get a taste of technology, and then in high school, they focus on more specific tracts: graphic design, videography, and such. We also have a summer workforce program where students are doing professional training, working with community-based clients, developing in-kind work, and giving back to the community. They are paid a minimum wage for this work through YouthWorks. We also have year-long work—our most advanced programming—with our apprenticeships and internships. Wide Angle Youth Media has brought the first three creative apprenticeships for youth to Maryland. ARPA funding supports that whole pathway of youth engagement.”

Continuing the Work | Baltimore’s Focus on Youth Engagement

Youth engagement programs empower young people to become agents of change in their communities. By providing programs and places for expression, encouraging civic engagement, and fostering a sense of responsibility, ARPA funding through Baltimore’s nonprofits and agencies—including the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks—will equip youth with the tools they need to make a difference, both in their own lives and in the world around them. Visit the “Training and Education” topic on our ARPA Dashboard to learn more about funding for youth-focused projects.

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