Partnering with Living Classrooms is always a no brainer for us! We are looking forward to making a difference this holiday season in our backyard. We sat down with the President of Living Classrooms, James Piper Bond, to ask him some questions and to learn more about the organization.
Living Classrooms Foundation was established in 1985 as a single program that engaged Baltimore area youth in hands-on education as they helped build our flagship Lady Maryland. As we began to take city youth out on the water to participate in environmental education programs, we recognized the transformative power of connecting with these young people and directly fostering their potential through hands-on learning.
The “learning by doing” philosophy that grew out of these early voyages led to the creation of our first job training initiative, Fresh Start, which uses carpentry skills to introduce adjudicated teens to workplace conduct and help them identify with their potential. In the three decades since, we steadily expanded education, workforce development, health and wellness, and violence prevention programming as we continued to address the urgent needs of our community. In 2001, we were called upon to expand our effective model of service to Washington, DC and today, Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region continues to further our work in the nation’s capital.
In both Baltimore and Washington, we have developed a powerful network of programs for all ages with the goal of disrupting the persistent cycle of poverty in underserved communities. By working with one child, one teen, one adult, and one family at a time, we reach individuals at every phase of their development and provide them with tools to navigate the barriers to success and self-sufficiency.
In the 35 years since Lady Maryland set sail, Living Classrooms Foundation has steadily and effectively developed a holistic strategy that includes education, workforce development, health and wellness, and violence prevention programming designed to help urban neighborhoods impacted by decades of disinvestment become safer, stronger, and healthier. In 2001, we expanded into Washington, DC to meet the needs of the city’s residents with the services of Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region. In both Baltimore and Washington, we have developed diverse programs for all ages with the goal to disrupt the persistent cycle of generational poverty and provide the skills necessary for individuals to overcome barriers to success in life, school, work, and family. Our key strategy is to engage with marginalized populations, assess their needs and current stage in life—in school or out-of-school, unemployed, or struggling with previous incarceration or addiction—and help them achieve self-sufficiency.
Today, programming occurs at multiple locations in Baltimore and DC including our Community Hubs (UA House at Fayette, POWER House, Patterson Park House, Broadway Overlook Center, and James C. Dent House), which have been developed with input from residents in the surrounding neighborhoods to meet their most urgent needs; two Safe Streets violence prevention neighborhood sites; two early childhood centers; The Crossroads School, our public charter middle school; three environmental education campuses that preserve and showcase urban green spaces and serve as outdoor learning laboratories; and a fleet of ships including active floating classrooms and stationary historic museum vessels that offer activities in STEM, ecology, and cultural and maritime heritage. Currently we serve over 30,000 individuals each year.
Our biggest and longest-running fundraising event is Maritime Magic. This annual waterfront event raises approximately $600,000 of critically needed funds each year to support our innovative education, workforce development, health and wellness, and violence prevention programs. It is often referred to as the “Best Party in Baltimore,” with an annual attendance of over 2,500 guests.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided not to hold Maritime Magic or any other in-person fundraising events this year. With this being our 35th anniversary, our 2020 theme is “All Hands on Deck,” which recognizes Living Classrooms’ philosophy of hands-on learning and maritime roots, but more importantly, is a direct call-to-action from our cities’ residents who are most susceptible to the negative effects of the pandemic. In this “non-event” year, we are seeking critically needed support through our “All Hands on Deck” fundraising campaign, which is ongoing through the end of the year (https://livingclassrooms.org/events/all-hands-on-deck/).
By the end of 2020, we hope to make significant renovation progress on our latest capital project, the Living Classrooms Opportunity Center, which is located in the former Ferndale building at the corner of Thames and Caroline Streets. The Living Classrooms’ Opportunity Center will serve as a central workforce development facility and empower us to scale up existing programming, while also incorporating new skills trainings designed to fit the landscape of Baltimore’s biggest employment sectors. Specifically, our partnerships with area apprenticeship programs, Johns Hopkins and affiliated hospitals, and Under Armour will position the Center as a feeder facility that delivers specialized training for construction trades, healthcare customer service and maintenance, and supply chain management fields. Additionally, by offering all elements of our comprehensive workforce development, intensive case management, and wraparound support in one central location, we will remove barriers for both our program participants, staff, and partners.
As mentioned above, we have implemented the All Hands on Deck fundraising campaign to help mitigate the substantial loss of revenue resulting from the cancellation of all in-person fundraising events. It is also a priority to provide at least 400 complete Thanksgiving meals to the families that we serve in both Baltimore and DC through our annual Thanksgiving Meal Drive.
Additionally, as we close out 2020, staff across all Living Classrooms programs are continuing to refine the virtual and distance learning opportunities that were developed in the spring to provide quality services to all of our constituents, as well as making plans and adapting facilities for our gradual and safe return to in-person programming in the coming year.
While we continue to focus on our overarching priority of providing quality results-oriented programming to Baltimore and DC communities in an effort to disrupt poverty, the execution of programming and general operations has changed due to COVID-19. The emergence of the pandemic in March had a significant immediate impact on Living Classrooms Foundation’s operations. However, despite having to close our community centers and educational sites, Living Classrooms quickly collaborated with community partners and supporters to deploy a rapid local response to help mitigate the collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Baltimore and DC’s most vulnerable residents. We creatively pivoted services to continue to meet the needs of children, adults, and families while adhering to social distancing and all other government regulations. We established food and hygiene supply distribution sites at our POWER House, Park House, and Dent House Community Centers and two Safe Streets sites, and are meeting the essential needs of over 400 people daily (more than 50,000 meals have been distributed). Living Classrooms’ education team developed STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) activity boxes with lessons and materials to distribute to students in our programs; to date we have distributed 12,000 of these activity boxes, which combine hands-on learning with YouTube instruction or can be used without access to a device. We established distance learning opportunities for our education programs, instituted a protocol for staff to conduct wellness checks with program participants, and acquired almost 500 Chromebooks for use by students in our Crossroads School, Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students after school and summer program, and some workforce development participants.
Our workforce development team has been diligently identifying job openings and helping participants secure employment in high demand fields like stocking, delivery, and sanitation. The team is also working with participants on actions such as online GED testing and online industry-recognized credential training. Safe Streets Violence Interrupters, deemed an essential service by Baltimore City, are providing critical mediation services to quell rising violence, as well as delivering food, supplies, and credible COVID-19 information to housebound individuals. While there was a partial temporary work stoppage for some components of our Project SERVE employment training program for returning citizens, participants have been back on the job since May, performing maintenance and cleaning projects across Baltimore City using appropriate safety measures. SERVE was awarded a contract for Designing for Distancing: Reopening Baltimore Together, a tactical urban design initiative intended to help small businesses reopen without compromising public health. Project SERVE has seen an increase in enrollment as some individuals are being released early from incarceration due to the virus and have an urgent need for employment training and support services; we are currently maintaining a wait list for openings in the program.
Over the summer, we successfully implemented virtual summer programs that reached 350 youth with academic enrichment, cultural arts, STEM, and physical fitness/wellness activities. Despite the pandemic, Living Classrooms was able to once again offer a summer internship program in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, and served 42 young people who participated in virtual workforce development training and some on-site internship work using appropriate public safety measures. As we move into the fall, we are keeping our constituents engaged with quality virtual learning that is helping them meet education and workforce development goals, as well as some small group outdoor in-person programs where it is safe to do so. A recent development is the creation of virtual STEM field trips that provide content-rich academic enrichment for teachers who want to enhance their online classroom instruction. Living Classrooms is paying close attention to state guidelines for re-opening public places, and is working on reconfiguring our sites with socially distant work areas and learning stations to accommodate a safe return to in-person programming.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our Thanksgiving food drive! The items that we typically struggle to secure are: desserts, cranberry sauce, turkeys, and turkey roasting pans.