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2nd year of Baltimore Youth Fund grants could roll out next month, nonprofit administering program tells city

Delayed second-year grants from Baltimore’s Youth Fund could begin rolling out early next month to community organizations early next month, according to Associated Black Charities, a nonprofit organization paid to administer the money. City Hall and the Shot Tower are shown in this file photo.
Delayed second-year grants from Baltimore’s Youth Fund could begin rolling out early next month to community organizations early next month, according to Associated Black Charities, a nonprofit organization paid to administer the money. City Hall and the Shot Tower are shown in this file photo.(Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

A long-delayed second round of grants from Baltimore’s Children and Youth Fund could begin rolling out early next month to community organizations, according to Associated Black Charities, a nonprofit organization paid to distribute the public money.

Planning meetings for those disbursements could start as soon as Tuesday with organizations that successfully managed funds from the first round of $9.6 million in grants to more than 80 groups in 2018. Such meetings will continue with additional groups “on a rolling basis” after that, ABC told city officials this week.

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It said a separate request for proposals for “Year Two” funding, from organizations that have not received funding before, also could begin soon, with new grantees being awarded funds as early as this summer.

In a letter to Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack" Young, ABC President and CEO Diane Bell-McKoy said delays were the result of “many unanticipated challenges” stemming from the “unprecedented” and “innovative” mandate for the Youth Fund to work with smaller, less-experienced community organizations.

“Many grantees, for example, struggled with compliance issues, such as obtaining criminal background checks for staff, securing liability insurance, and finalizing fiscal sponsor agreements, which slowed our ability to disburse some funds,” she wrote.

ABC leaders "absolutely agree with everyone about the urgency of disbursing funds to serve children and youth,” she wrote, but “simply cannot bypass the standards of accountability to achieve that goal.”

Voters approved the fund’s creation in a 2016 referendum, guaranteeing it a portion of the city’s tax revenue each year. ABC was contracted to facilitate the disbursement of the inaugural $12 million in funds, taking $1.2 million in administrative fees, while also working on creating a permanent intermediary to oversee the fund moving forward.

Bell-McKoy sent a three-page letter Tuesday and a separate five-page document with additional information to Young and other city officials, including Democratic City Councilman Zeke Cohen, after they demanded more information last week about the status of the upcoming grants.

City leaders had heard from some leaders of community organizations who are anxious because they made decisions based on promises of second-round grants.

On Friday, Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the assurance that second-year grants will be dispersed soon was “encouraging” and “something the mayor is going to keep an eye on.”

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“We have a commitment from the organization that the mayor and the council can hold them accountable to,” Davis said. “We’re going to stay the course and make sure the dates are met and the dollars are going out the door. ... We have to make sure that we are moving quickly, but that we are moving quickly in a way that is appropriate and that is in line with the memorandum of understanding between the city and the organization.”

Cohen also said he was eager to see the funding disbursed. He said the council’s education and youth committee, which he chairs, has a hearing scheduled Feb. 20 to get an update from ABC.

“ABC has committed to re-energizing the process and meeting with grantees,” he said. “I will be paying close attention.”

Banner Neighborhoods Community Corp., an organization that runs mentoring and sports programs for 250 kids on Baltimore’s east side, received a $290,000 grant in the program’s first year. It’s been waiting since September to be able to apply for a similar, second-year disbursement.

Earlier this month, Robin Truiett-Theodorson, Banner’s executive director, sent an email to Youth Fund officials begging for information about the status of the grant. Truiett-Theodorson said her organization needed “to move forward with planning, hiring, purchasing and enrollments” if it’s going to provide sports programs for the coming year as promised.

Grant Corley, chairman of the organization’s board, said Friday that the uncertainty around the funding has made it extremely difficult to plan for the future, and that he was “glad to hear" that second-year grants could be forthcoming soon.

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“My understanding is, if we got a disbursement by early February, we would probably still be OK. But much beyond that, we would start having problems,” he said. “We’re starting to talk about a Plan B, about how we are going to be able to fund these programs if the funding from the Youth Fund isn’t available.”

Corley said the first-year funding had allowed his organization — which has a total 2020 budget of $970,000 — to greatly expand, including adding soccer and track programs, and it would be a shame not to sustain that momentum.

“We’re one of few organizations that are providing this really needed service, this mentoring program in East Baltimore, and it really contributes to the quality of life in the neighborhood. It’s a vital service,” Corley said.

“We were just a little bit surprised, because there has been so much emphasis on the Youth Fund as a remedy or a way to help address problems in the city, particularly after the civil unrest several years ago, and now that seems to be up in the air,” he said. “We’re ready to roll here with programs, but we need to get that funding.”

Bell-McKoy, while expressing understanding for the sense of urgency among grant recipients and other city officials, pushed back at any suggestion her organization was to blame for the delays. She attributed them to the learning curve of starting a fund under a new model and an unclear “vision," “with no details on how to do it and what to do when challenges arose” from the city.

"Our team of staff and contractors logged more than 5,800 hours of technical assistance, working in hand with organizations to ensure they obtained grants, managed them well and provided high-caliber services to our young people,” she wrote. “However, as an African American-led organization in Baltimore, we know we will be judged on our success through a lens of structural racism, leaving us little room to highlight and learn from the many lessons identified.”

Davis, Young’s spokesman, dismissed that reasoning.

“It was going to be tough from the beginning, so that’s really not something the mayor is going to entertain or have much patience for, quite frankly,” Davis said. "The work is tough, and it is difficult work. However, that’s not an excuse.

“We’re not interested in reasons for the delays. We need the experts to work beyond that and move forward.”

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