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Baltimore pilot targets new way to build neighborhood trust with 10 hyper-local grants

M&T Bank and Weave: The Social Fabric Project, a program of the Aspen Institute, on Monday announced winners of the inaugural Weaver Awards celebrating and supporting neighbors who are weaving Baltimore’s social fabric.

Each awardee receives $7,000 for a project that meets a community’s emotional need for connection and belonging.

The program aims to break the mold of typical community grantmaking in three ways: It supports connecting people at a time when many Americans feel divided and isolated; it gives resources to often-overlooked community leaders who might not have the time, experience or nonprofit status to apply for typical grants; and it aims to build a network of all Baltimore’s social weavers, whether or not they win grants, through an online community designed to offer long-term resources, skill workshops, peer support and potential partnerships.

This year’s 10 Weaver Awardees come from throughout the city:

  • Audrey Carter of the Oliver neighborhood who started the Team-up to Clean-up Project and will use the funds to beautify the community, offer youth stipends, and start a farmers’ market to address the fresh food shortage.
  • The Rev. Michele Ward, who leads an association of block captains in the Greenmount West neighborhood and is launching the Lights On Greenmount West campaign to allow 140 homeowners to get solar-powered outdoor lighting for their stoops and back alleys and inspire informal outdoor community gathering.
  • Rocky Brown who leads the Ellwood Park Project, which aims to attract more homeowners to the neighborhood, and will use the award to rehabilitate the park pavilion, resurface the playground and expand sports camps and youth programs.
  • Naimah Sharif who works in Belair-Edison and West Baltimore through her nonprofit NLife, which creates programs and events to connect people to each other, their neighborhoods and communal celebration to promote social and physical wellness.
  • Aida Medina of Highlandtown leads Gallery Church Baltimore, where she uses her bilingual skills to connect teen moms, newcomers and families in need to free children’s clothes, diapers and formula.
  • Elijah Miles who works with Tendea Family in McElderry Park and is starting the year-round Tendea’s Servant Leaders Program for teens with a paid summer learning institute.
  • Danielle Battle of Cherry Hill founded RICH-Restoring Inner City Hope and will use the award for youth enrichment classes such as woodworking, STEM, conflict resolution, anti-bullying through improvisational comedy, mentoring and photography.
  • Ashley Esposito works for the State of Maryland and co-founded the Village of Violetville Inc. to connect people and meet neighborhood needs from vaccinations to school supplies to beautification projects and community activities.
  • Geraldine Taylor and Arica Gonzalez of the Panway neighborhood work through the Urban Oasis, a community-created organization, and will use the award to support start-up grassroots projects in minority communities.
  • Duane “Shorty” Davis, who works throughout Baltimore on his project Good in the Hood, BBQ’ing to bring people together at family-friendly events so they can connect, share food and ideas.

Awardees will work on their projects between now and the end of the year. They’ll have regular progress check-ins with staff at the Weave Project, but no formal reports or budgets to submit. On Sept. 19, they will be honored at M&T Bank Stadium when the Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs in a night game.

M&T Bank and the Aspen Institute hope to offer another round of awards in Baltimore next year and expand the program to other cities. New York Times columnist and author David Brooks founded and chairs the Weave Project.

A 12-member selection committee chose the ten awardees from 100 people who applied or were nominated by neighbors. The judges were Shantell L. Roberts of Touching Young Lives, Inc., Judeith James of the Alternative Approaches to Mental Health Crisis Center, Ako Changa Onyango of AO Services Inc., Krystle Starvis of the Aspen Institute, Antonio Tabora of the Latino Economic Development Center, Hershawna Frison of the Aspen Institute, Brian Gerado of Business Volunteers Maryland, Tanya R. Dorsey of M&T Bank, Nneka Nnamdi of Fight Blight Baltimore, Jim Peterson of M&T Bank, Crickett Woloson of the Elbow Fund and Paul Taylor of the Mayor’s Office.