Diversity & Inclusion
Awards / Communities / Education / Entrepreneurs / Funding

Meet the 10 Baltimore community connectors who won M&T Bank and Aspen Institute’s Weaver Awards

The pilot program is providing $7,000 grants to neighborhood-level leaders in the city. "For small nonprofits, it means so much when big organizations come together and honor you," said Danielle Battle of Cherry Hill's RICH.

The inaugural Weaver Awards honorees at M&T Bank Stadium. (Courtesy photo)

For RICH-Restoring Inner City Hope Center in Cherry Hill, the pandemic changed well-laid plans for a 2020 summer program for middle school boys. But even as that was put on hold, cofounder Danielle Battle said the nonprofit continued to serve the community.

They gave out meals, as well as packages with sanitizing products and activities to keep students engaged. By the end of the summer, its after-school programming was up and running.

It’s just the latest example of responsive grassroots work in the South Baltimore neighborhood for the organization, which Battle and her husband Mike grew from a prayer walk to a physical community hub. Now, RICH is wrapping up its second summer school session. It has mixed activities like improv comedy to teach anti-bullying, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, as well as skills like STEM, woodworking and photography. The programming is all aimed at fostering positive exchanges for Black boys, she said.

“We really wanted to focus on having a program that built kids up,” Battle said.

As it gets ready to start after-school programming this fall, RICH is looking to welcome 30 students, compared to nine last year. It is also aiming to launch a workforce development program.

It’s getting an additional boost by way of a new grant program that is being held first in Baltimore: Battle is one of 10 recipients of the Weaver Awards, a new program from M&T Bank and the Aspen Institute’s Weave: The Social Fabric Project.

The awards are honoring community leaders who may otherwise be overlooked, and are crucial connectors that build relationships. Working on projects between now and and the end of the year, the awardees will regularly check in with program staff. In a unique approach, however, the awardees won’t have to submit budgets or formal reports.

Battle is a former teacher, so being a connector comes naturally to her. She was nominated for the Weaver Awards by community members, and said reading the words that they submitted was what really blew her away with the win.

“When I got the email it really hit me: This community loves you so much and there are people out there that want to celebrate that you do this grassroots work,” she said. “We are trying to feed the whole child and sometimes people don’t see that as valuable.”

The round of funding is the first for M&T Bank and Aspen, who are eyeing another round in Baltimore next year, as well as expansion to other cities. It shows organizations partnering to create new kinds of programs. Along with new thinking, they can bring visibility. The awardees will be recognized at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 19, during a Ravens game at night.

“It speaks volumes to the little guy like we are,” Battle said of the honor. “For small nonprofits, it means so much when big organizations come together and honor you.”

Here’s a look at the nine winners of the Weaver Awards joining Battle:

  • Audrey Carter started the Team-up to Clean-up Project in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood, and will use the funds to beautify the community, offer youth stipends, and start a farmers’ market.
  • Rev. Michele Ward, leader of an association of block captains in Greenmount West, will launch the Lights On Greenmount West campaign. It aims to allow 140 homeowners to get solar-powered outdoor lighting for their stoops and back alleys, as well as 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. There, she uses 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. Miles is starting the year-round Tendea’s Servant Leaders Program for teens with a paid summer learning institute.
  • Ashley Esposito works for the State of Maryland and cofounded the Village of Violetville, Inc. to connect people and meet neighborhood needs through vaccinations, school supplies, 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 startup grassroots projects in minority communities.
  • Duane “Shorty” Davis works throughout Baltimore on his project Good in the Hood, barbecuing to bring people together at family-friendly events so they can connect, share food and ideas.
Companies: The Aspen Institute / M&T Bank

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