BCF Program Officer Billie Malcolm (second from left) toured Penn North with Annie (center), neighbors and Penn North Community Association’s Kelly Little (far right).

Baltimore Communities Assisting and Advancing Neighbors Program Builds on Untapped Assets in Penn North

Annie Hall—or Ms. Annie, as she is affectionately known—has decades of history and deep relationships in her community of Penn North. “My involvement started when the Penn North Community Association was in the middle of a master planning process and the president left. I was retired at that point and my grandnephew [State Senator Antonio Hayes] said, ‘Well you’re not doing anything!’” she laughs. A lifelong resident of the small community in West Baltimore and its staunchest advocate, Annie has led revisions to the master plan and has been fighting ever since for everything from the revitalization of a recreation center to the removal of illegally dumped couches on vacant lots.

Annie’s reputation in the community is unmatched, according to Kelly Little, former director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation and current consultant to the Penn North Community Association. “But the challenge for someone who has been here fighting the battles for so long, is you look at anything and anyone new skeptically,” he says. A new pilot program called Baltimore Communities Assisting and Advancing Neighbors (BCAAN) is overcoming that challenge by taking time to build trust with residents and ensure they feel autonomy and ownership as the group works to address two of the greatest issues facing the community: (1) the lack of economic opportunity and mobility, particularly for young Black men; and (2) the pervasive sense of hopelessness that comes from being surrounded by disinvestment and a lack of direction.

With support from the New York-based Robin Hood Foundation and Baltimore’s own Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and in partnership with the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Center for Urban Families, BCAAN is empowering neighborhood leaders to offer neighborhood-specific solutions, trusting their unique insights to ensure programs are impactful, and following up with immediate investments to demonstrate commitment. After years of broken promises from people in power, the importance of building trust to foster long-term change cannot be overstated.

Leaders like Annie Hall are often unknown and underappreciated assets, but they have an unparalleled ability to identify possible barriers, engage hard-to-reach neighbors, and encourage buy-in. “You can’t do this work without relationships,” says Kelly. “How can anyone expect to influence change without relationships? She knows everyone—the young people, the dealers… She got into an argument with a young man the other day and a couple of hours later he came to her house and apologized because his friends told him he couldn’t disrespect Ms. Annie,” he says, laughing.

BCAAN builds on these personal relationships, which are the heart of Penn North. In the coming months, the program will hire a team of staff with direct knowledge of the community to engage and connect residents to resources that remove barriers to economic opportunity. These include reducing criminal records and child support debt, promoting workforce attachment, creating access to postsecondary education/training, advancing family-sustaining wages, and encouraging entrepreneurship. An outreach worker will strategically target residents who are known to need opportunity. A community navigator will help to identify and overcome systemic barriers and support advocacy for investment. A partnership coordinator will work with the wide range of nonprofits in and around Penn North to ensure they are ready to provide wraparound services for referred clients, and a dedicated case manager will guide program participants through every step and offer moral support as they strive to achieve economic stability and, ultimately, mobility.

Beyond extending access to economic opportunity, BCAAN is laser focused on developing the next generation of community leaders and a broad level of civic engagement. The reason is two-fold: to further disrupt the feeling of hopelessness that many feel by instilling a sense of autonomy and power, and to support Annie and other women who are “the backbone of this community,” says Kelly. “She has a reputation for getting stuff done, but she’s really trying to do more than troubleshooting.”

It’s true. Annie Hall has big visions for the neighborhood, including a vibrant recreation center and other assets to ensure children thrive, transit-oriented development to allow residents to reach school and work, a diverse mix of new housing to attract families, and the addition of small businesses and manufacturers to provide services and employment opportunities for residents. With real, tangible investment from BCAAN and authentic engagement of existing residents, Annie sees a bright future for Penn North: “Sometimes in Baltimore, we revere the past. We want to focus on the future here.”

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Building Stronger Neighborhoods Regionwide

We have a nearly 30-year history of offering grants to resident-led groups and community projects in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. These grants give residents the resources they need to accomplish a small project, get more people involved, and encourage the next generation of neighborhood leaders. We also fund programs that support the development of leaders of all ages who are working to improve their neighborhoods and schools. Our support is intended to help identify, activate, inform and network leaders. And finally, we believe when schools and neighborhoods team up to improve their school and community, meaningful and lasting change can be made. We are interested in funding proposals in which the students and adults in schools collaborate intentionally with community residents, neighborhood associations, and other individuals, groups, and institutions in the area surrounding a school.

School Leadership

We believe that attracting and retaining effective and diverse school leaders is a key lever for change in Baltimore's educational landscape, and so we fund school leadership development efforts at the district and individual school level. We are interested in funding proposals that focus on principal coaching, mentoring, peer networking, wellness/self-care, as well as pipelines that identify and develop new leaders. We will also continue to support efforts that build a culture of appreciation and encouragement for school leaders.

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Melissa McC. Warlow
Director, Baker Fund Grants Program
410-332-4172 x150

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Place-based Grantmaking in Selected School Communities

We have allocated funds for two geographical areas that bookend a crucial corridor on the Westside of Baltimore City: Howard Park /Forest Park area (served by Calvin Rodwell Elementary Middle School and Liberty Elementary), and Reservoir Hill/Penn North area (served by Dorothy I Height Elementary). In these three schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, we will support projects and activities designed to make the communities safe, clean, green and vibrant; and improve the quality of the schools. Some projects may be neighborhood-focused, some school-focused and others collaborative projects between the schools and their respective communities.

Early Learning & Judy Centers

High quality early childhood education has a lifelong effect on students. Through our Early Learning grant program, we are interested in system-wide early childhood education proposals that will help Baltimore City and County's youngest learners, and their families, get the start they need. Nonprofit organizations that offer programs and/or services to Judy Centers are encouraged to contact the centers directly to explore partnership opportunities.

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John A. Gilpin


Director of Planned Gifts
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How Can We Help?

Kate Sam

Communications Officer
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How Can We Help?

Cathy Brill

Executive Director
Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation