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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

Carroll County nonprofit wins funding in support of programs to create ‘change’ in community

Katie Kirby founded Together We Own It to advocate for children and families in need. Now, the nonprofit is being recognized for its efforts twice over.

Together We Own It is one of 13 continuation programs that will is being awarded funding from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services by way of the Title II Formula Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention grant program and the Juvenile State Match Requirement program.

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The Title II formula funds support reform in Maryland’s juvenile justice system and focuses on initiatives and strategies that support the hallmarks of the Developmental Approach to Juvenile Justice Reform. It is the second time Together We Own It has received this particular grant.

“We were really excited to find that we got a renewal grant because I think it really shows how much it attests to the fact that our programs are really successful and that we’re receiving positive outcomes,” Kirby said. “To be able to get the grant for a second time, they’ve been able to see the demonstration that we can really create change in our community.”

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This state and federal funding is available to state and local government agencies, state and local law enforcement, as well as nonprofit agencies to support projects focused on improving the well-being of Maryland youth through community-based services. In addition to the continuation programs, at least nine new programs will receive more than $700,000 in funding. Kirby said the exact funding amount they’ll receive wasn’t clear, but last year Together We Own It received $60,950.

Kirby, a 2014 Westminster High School graduate, grew up in Carroll County and graduated from Salisbury University in 2017. As a sophomore at Salisbury, she said she worked at an after-school program with a young girl who had been exposed to several risk factors growing up. The girl’s family was evicted from their residence and could no longer attend the program.

Kirby presented the idea of creating a new mentorship organization to the girl’s mother and she seemed interested, so Kirby decided to proceed with turning it into a reality.

She founded Together We Own It in December 2015 with a mission to work with children and families to break the cycle of poverty, trauma and mental illness, and move forward by providing a stable and supportive environment, full of opportunity, according to the nonprofit’s website.

“We went from serving this one little girl to now we serve over 700 children a year,” Kirby said. “Although, this year we’ve served over 3,000 because of [COVID-19], so we have accelerated our programs a lot. We started out as just a one-on-one mentoring program, and we now offer group mentoring programs as well as basic necessity support.”

Kirby said it took moving out of the community she grew up in to realize just how many children in the county have experienced poverty and trauma.

She wanted to help as many of them as she could, however she could.

One of the programs provided by Together We Own It is Rise Up, a group mentoring program that works with children ranging from 12 to 18 years old who have engaged in or are at risk of engaging in risky or criminal behavior, including those who have come into contact with law enforcement or been in juvenile services.

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The renewal grant will directly support the Rise Up program to aid in restorative practices to help students and children who are first-time non-violent offenders to divert to a better path.

“We always say in our organization, ‘Raised Here, Stays Here,’ ” Kirby said. “It’s important to support our own community and build everybody up locally. When I came back in 2017, I brought the organization here with me. I met with anybody and everybody that would meet with me to really understand what the needs were in our community.”

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Together We Own It celebrated the grand opening of its new space, the Own It: Center for Strength and Development, on John Street in Westminster on June 15. Kirby said the coronavirus pandemic affected the move, but it allowed them to get the center ready to open to start accepting kids again.

The center is open at 25% capacity, Kirby said, and precautions are in place including requiring masks while indoors, taking temperatures when kids enter, cleaning door knobs and surfaces every couple of hours and closing the center for a deep clean every Friday.

The pandemic forced all of Together We Own It’s youth programs to shut down and the staff to put together teams of 10 to 12 people to hand-deliver essential items to at least 100 households per week. They did so for at least 12 weeks until the end of May. Kirby said some of the kids they work with got involved as well, volunteering their services to help others.

The nonprofit now serves as a virtual learning site in a partnership with Carroll County Public Schools now that the school year has begun under a remote learning model. Kirby said about 90 students who have identified academic, social, emotional or mental health needs come in during the week to receive support and resources to accomplish their virtual school day.

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Other programs, such as Rise Up, are still offered in the evenings, and Kirby said the community center has provided a transformational experience to have everything in one place to better assist children and their families.

“I think I just kind of grew up with some blinders on and I just wasn’t aware of the needs in our community,” she said. “Now it’s about being able to serve my own community and we work with a lot of my old teachers, too.

"It’s really special to be able to serve our neighbors and kids in the community.”


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