Strong City serves all of Baltimore City, and while we've grown and evolved over our 48 years, we remain bound to the core values upon which we were founded: that organized neighborhoods can tap into the energies and gifts of their residents to build collective power – power that can be used to build up assets, address problems, hold government accountable and create great places to live. We know that organized action is crucial to building strong communities.
Our core belief is that neighborhood residents are foundational to local change. We know that to develop neighborhood capacity, we must harness the energy of local people. This begins with listening to and identifying collective issues while working closely with people over time to develop real-world solutions.
Strong City employs a place-based community building strategy – a flexible model that can adapt to locations, needs and issues, developing organically to create sustainable community change. Our work in neighborhoods always starts with residents who want to make a change and a community asking for assistance. Early work involves identifying assets and formal institutions that could have a positive impact over time, including: civic organizations, relevant city agencies, elected officials, schools, businesses, nonprofits and anchor institutions like universities and places of worship. A place-based strategy builds on these existing assets. Even the most distressed neighborhoods have assets: passionate, committed people, relationships and institutions like schools, churches, businesses.
Strong City Baltimore aims to achieve our goals of making Baltimore a better city for all. Our work, and breadth of activities, is ambitious, but intentionally so, as the breadth of interconnected problems that the city and its citizens face are vast and have been created by decades of disinvestment. Our holistic model of community development empowers and serves those who seek to improve their lives, blocks, communities, and city.
Strong City's model of community development is built on the foundation that neighborhood improvement is a multi-faceted task requiring a long-term approach. This praxis incorporates elements of neighborhood revitalization, civic capacity building, and economic development. We view the interconnectivity of our various programs as the necessarily comprehensive method required for true community development.
Experience has shown us that lasting change is achieved by supporting neighborhood leaders, fostering civic engagement, and building community. One of our priorities is always housing revitalization, with an emphasis on reducing vacancies. When Strong City began its targeted code enforcement in 2008, there were more than 800 vacant buildings in our focus area; by the end of 2016, there were fewer than 340. Since 2007, this work has generated more than $32 million in private investment.
Strong City's site-based community school coordinators support teachers, administrators and parents to augment services, identify resources, and help schools become neighborhood hubs. Our relentless advocacy work resulted in a brand-new Waverly Elementary/Middle School building, and as a founding member and fiscal sponsor of the Baltimore Education Coalition, we helped turn the dream of a $1 billion state investment in city public schools into a reality.
Strong City's programs and partnerships increase individuals' capacity to succeed. Our Adult Learning Center empowers adult learners to become college and career ready through adult basic education and ESOL classes. Strong City's partnership with the Healthy Neighborhoods program helps increase homeownership with access to low-interest loans and incentives. The 29th Street Community Center, which had been closed by the city in 2011, was reopened by Strong City in 2013 and is thriving, with 450 adults and children enrolled weekly in its programs – 70 percent of which are led by community residents.
As the fiscal sponsor for over 100 local organizations, Strong City partners with change-makers throughout the city, from small groups like Friends of Stony Run to complex social enterprises such as Impact Hub in Station North and Baltimore Corps. As the largest sponsor of AmeriCorps VISTA members in Maryland, Strong City's influence extends to dozens more nonprofits and government agencies.
Since its inception, Strong City has been a catalyst, resource, incubator, facilitator, coalition-builder, and innovator for Baltimore. Over the past 48 years, we have forged many successful partnerships, expanded the services we provide, and widened our geographical range. We have successfully spearheaded neighborhood revitalization and have led significant projects such as the restoration of Wyman Park, coordinated vast improvements in the Barclay and Harwood neighborhoods, and reduced over half of blighted and vacant properties in our targeted neighborhoods.
We also work with numerous organizations in order to catalyze sustainable change. A few of our most significant current partnerships are:
• York Road Partnership (YRP): Strong City is a leader of an umbrella group uniting people across a historic race and class divide. Amongst other achievements, the YRP has successfully removed five problem liquor establishments, established the Govanstown Farmer's Market, and coordinated the restoration of 40 vacant homes.
• Homewood Community Partnership Initiative and Central Baltimore Partnership: Key partners in anchor institution strategy to revitalize Central Baltimore that have supported public education by investing over $1 million in physical improvements, introducing STEM/Engineering and Arts Integration focuses at Barclay and Margaret Brent elementary and middle schools, and creating the 29th Street Community Center.
• Baltimore Education Coalition: 20 plus member coalition for education advocacy that has won $1 Billion towards school construction and stopped $125 million in budget cuts.
All of our initiatives rely on the collaborative efforts of a group of organizations, each with their own strengths – and, as a participant in these leadership roles, Strong City is able to help leverage the strengths of each partner organization, as well as preserve the priorities and goals of impacted communities, whether by bringing community members into conversations, or by facilitating deeper thinking among separate stakeholder groups.
Strong City has an organization-wide strategic plan which evaluates each program's goals, strategies, outputs, and outcomes. Below is an example of the evaluation framework for two of our programs:
Neighborhoods - Goal: Build Strong Neighborhood Leadership. Strategy: Offer Targeted block ambassador training Metrics: Amount of block captain trainings. Outputs: Trained 75 block captains in 2016. Outcomes: Resident engagement is essential to a neighborhood's success, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, as residents have an increased capacity to solve community problems.
Adult Learning Center (ALC) - Goal: Prepare learners for college and career readiness. Strategy: enroll, serve, test, and retain learners in ALC programs. Metric: amount of learners at ALC, pre- and post- testing. Outputs: 459 learners enrolled, 67 percent of learners post-tested, 48 percent of learners tested at a level that indicates two-years growth, and seven learners passed GED test. Outcomes: The ALC is a major source of adult education and college and career readiness services in Baltimore City. Learners are equipped with the tools needed to build better lives for themselves and their families, opening avenues toward financial stability, greater health, gainful employment, and overall self-sufficiency.
Broadly speaking, our programs use a variety of community impact metrics that include event/program participation, incidence of training and assistance provided to community members, anecdotes from program participants, media citations, and surveys.
Each year, we measure our success and progress by using our organizational strategic plan. This plan guides our programmatic decisions, whether that means reshaping our programs in order to better serve the communities and people we work with, or addressing dire needs that arise through our evaluation procedures of how Strong City must expand its programmatic services.
For example, to better serve our adult learners and meet the federal mandates of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the Adult Learning Center went through a rigorous self-evaluation of our services. We discovered higher learner performance and higher retention rates were tied to partnerships, especially at off-site class locations that provided additional adult-based community services. Thus, we closed three locations, but added five additional off-sites at more strategic locations.
Over our 48 years of existence, Strong City Baltimore have helped create immense change in our targeted neighborhoods. A few examples of these accomplishments are:
Vacant housing: The 400 block of Whitridge Avenue was one of the most troubled areas of Harwood, with over half of its houses abandoned, when Strong City began our strategic code enforcement work in 2008. By 2014, the number of vacants in Harwood had dropped from about 190 to 45 – a reduction of more than 75 percent, heralding the renewal of a once-stable community. Whitridge Row itself has become a jewel of Harwood; the street has just a handful of vacants, and a dozen beautifully refurbished homes are now being marketed at affordable prices, thanks to an innovative financing strategy pioneered by Strong City with a grant we won from the state.
Community Center: In 2011, the city closed the poorly maintained and underutilized Barclay Recreation Center, depriving nearby neighborhoods of a key asset. Community leaders asked Strong City to step in, and in 2013 the building was reopened as the 29th Street Community Center. Today, several hundred adults and children benefit each week from the center's low-cost, high-quality recreational, educational, and social programming – with most classes led by community members.
Neighborhood organizing: Over a decade ago, the Remington neighborhood was plagued by drugs, crime, and disinvestment when residents asked for Strong City's help. Using our time-tested community organizing techniques, we helped get a vigorous new neighborhood association off the ground, rallying residents, churches, schools, and businesses to dream a new future for the community they love. Today, Remington is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Baltimore, drawing residents to upgraded housing and incubating new businesses.
Strength through partnership: Partnerships and coalitions are key to our success. Strong City is a founding member of the Baltimore Education Coalition, which we also support as a nonprofit business client. Our advocacy with the BEC led directly to the approval of the $1 billion, 21st Century Schools construction and renovation plan, which will transform Baltimore's educational landscape in the coming years by modernizing dozens of city school buildings.
Citywide impact: Though our historical roots are in north-central Baltimore, Strong City's reach has been citywide for many years now through such programs as our Adult Learning Center, AmeriCorps VISTA, and annual Neighborhood Institute.
As Strong City looks towards the future, we aim to continue supporting transformative and sustainable change across Baltimore City.