Leadership Academy participants pose outside the renovated Hilton Recreation Center.

Leveling Up With the LEVEL82 Fund, Torrey and Chanel Smith are all-in on Baltimore  

Torrey Smith could have gone anywhere when he retired from the NFL in 2019. He had spent the previous eight years as a wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Carolina Panthers, winning two Super Bowls with two separate teams.

Yet, he returned to the city that started it all: Baltimore.

“The people are what brings me back,” he says. “If I wasn’t attached to the people, and to all that is Baltimore—the beauty and the pain—I wouldn’t be here. But I believe in this city’s potential and I believe in its people. You can’t care so much about a place and the situations I see here and just leave.”

Knowing that he wanted to make the city he loved better, Torrey began looking for giving vehicles to steward his funds and mobilize others. “You can have a great heart, but you also have to make sure you’re associated with people you can trust, that are sound legally and financially. So I asked around and kept hearing Baltimore Community Foundation and all positive things. Dick Cass, owner of the Ravens, is even an honorary trustee.”

The result is the LEVEL82 Fund, co-founded by Torrey and his wife, Chanel. LEVEL is an acronym—Leadership, Education, Vision, Effort, and Love—and 82 is the number Torrey wore when he played for the Ravens. Their goal is to create a gathering space for those who live, work, and play in Baltimore City while developing strategically curated programming to empower the community. That gathering space is the Hilton Recreation Center in West Baltimore, which had been closed for 12 years when Torrey was introduced to it by Craig Singleterry, the Ravens’ Vice President of Security and a former Baltimore City police officer.

 

In 2020, Torrey and Chanel toured the site with Reginald Moore, Director of Baltimore City Recreation & Parks. Since then, the site has hosted youth programs and community events, including a food giveaway last Thanksgiving.

 

Now, with support from the LEVEL82 Fund, the center has been renovated and is serving as the hub for programs that include LEVEL UP Leadership Academy, a summer camp that helps students ages 10-12 develop into change-makers in their community through academic enrichment, weekly leadership workshops, social-emotional learning, and a collaborative community service project. Programming is continuing this fall with after-school opportunities that integrate academic support, athletic and enrichment activities, mental health resources, and social services. Support from the LEVEL82 Fund leverages resources to multiply impact from other partners, most notably the Baltimore Ravens.

“We chose this area for three reasons,” says Torrey. “First, this facility was sitting still for years. Second, it has a strong school nearby in Green Street Academy. And third—which should really be number 1—it has a very strong community association. Too often, people come in and they try to give the community all their answers, and the way they think the community should be fixed or helped. We came in wanting to figure out how we can fit in. We’re a piece of the community.”

In addition to revitalizing the Hilton Recreation Center, the LEVEL82 Fund awards $20,000 in scholarships to low-income students each year, in honor of Torrey’s late brother, Tevin Smith. “There are so many different stories about our recipients,” says Torrey, “but the common thread—the thing that I’m always amazed by—is how resilient these young people are. They are working to support their families, studying at night…. Often they have people that care about them, but they just don’t have the resources. It’s hard to elevate without education, and it’s important to me to help with that [financial] burden.”

The Baltimore Community Foundation is proud to steward Torrey and Chanel Smith’s LEVEL82 Fund and many others that are investing in education, enrichment, and safe places—elevating countless young people and building a better Baltimore for all.  ν

+ posts
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

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.

How Can We Help?

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

Apply for a Grant

Our on-line application system provides applicants with a portal to start a new grant application or to continue updating an application already in process. Please be sure to select the “Save and Finish Later” button when you are finished working on your application in order to save your current session’s work. At any time during the application process you can select the “Contact Us” button in the top right corner of the screen and you will be able to send an email to the Baltimore Community Foundation staff with specific questions. 

To be considered for funding, proposals must be submitted through the online application portal, however, we provide a PDF version of the application along with other useful forms here for your reference:   

When you are ready please select one of the following options:

OPTION 1

I have not applied for BCF funding online in the past.
Select this option if you have never used our website to apply for a grant from BCF.

OPTION 2

I previously applied for BCF funding online in the past.
Select this option if you have applied for any of BCF’s grants using our website. Your profile may still be in our system and you may login using your account.

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.

How Can We Help?

John A. Gilpin

J.D., CAP®,AEP®

Director of Planned Gifts
410-332-4171 ext. 132

How Can We Help?

Kate Sam

Communications Officer
410-332-4171 ext. 181

How Can We Help?

Cathy Brill

Executive Director
Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation