How community foundations address local crises

The recent crackdown on immigration in Baltimore — and across the country — demonstrates why community foundations are uniquely positioned to address this immediate need, and many others, through systemic change at the local level. 
Donors often come to the Baltimore Community Foundation and ask us to help them match their charitable goals to the issues affecting the community. After all, we have spent 45 years building relationships among donors, nonprofit organizations, philanthropic partners and our local and state government officials.

Through our Target Neighborhood work, the Baltimore Community Foundation has built relationships with people and organizations in Southeast Baltimore. This project, supported by BCF, brought together Mis Raíces, a Latino parent group from the Patterson Park Public Charter School, to build a habitat for migratory birds in Patterson Park.

Over the years, we’ve helped facilitate support for initiatives and programs that work to make Baltimore better. Some of these projects are long-term, like our work to improve school readiness or boost neighborhoods. Others, like the Fund for Rebuilding Baltimore, address immediate needs in a time of crisis. Regardless of how long our work lasts, it always follows our vision of a Baltimore boasts a growing economy where all people — regardless of where they were born — have the opportunity to thrive.

A current crisis (not the only crisis, of course) facing Baltimore is supporting immigrants facing deportation or prosecution because of their immigration status. In recent years, most of our city’s population growth has come from foreign born residents settling in Baltimore. Many of those people came to Baltimore to escape the dangerous conditions in their home countries — including war, persecution, a lack of economic opportunity and threats of gang violence against them.

It is no secret that federal enforcement of immigration law has accelerated in recent months. This enforcement has led to the prosecution of people who are community and business leaders in Baltimore.

We heard a bit of good news this week about some immigrants who are dear to their community: Serbando Rodriguez, a Highlandtown barber detained for months by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement was recently released, along with Segundo Paucar, another Highlandtown resident who had faced deportation. The family, friends, neighbors and community non-profits worked hard to secure the release of Rodriguez and Paucar.

This ending shows what happens when friends, family members, community-serving nonprofit organizations, and local government mobilize in support of vulnerable residents. Baltimore is filled with people and groups like this who make our city resilient and strong.

Where does local philanthropy sit in this discussion? As we mentioned above, BCF has been building relationships throughout Baltimore for decades. We call on these relationships to connect people who can build systems to address crises.

Take Serbando, for example: He volunteers with a neighborhood bike program supported by BCF near his barber shop in Southeast Baltimore. After he was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February, Chris Ryer, executive director of the Southeast Community Development Corporation (a BCF Target Neighborhood partner), called BCF. Based on that conversation, we spoke with Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MIMA), which was in the process of creating a fund for “know your rights” training and legal aid for foreign-born Baltimore residents.

Thanks to a generous donor, BCF had funding available to apply to the emergent need of protecting foreign-born residents of the city. In consultation with the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers and Open Society Institute-Baltimore (OSI), BCF allocated that contribution to Safe City Baltimore, a new initiative of OSI and MIMA. Safe City provides legal assistance and other resources to benefit immigrants, especially those detained by ICE.

With funding from BCF, OSI and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Safe City can help bolster the work of individuals fighting for their families and neighbors — and create a more robust system to help vulnerable residents.

This chain of events demonstrates what is possible when local philanthropy establishes and maintains positive, trusting relations with community partners — including those in government.

Community foundations are doing this all over the country right now. We’re building ways to help neighbors like Serbando Rodriguez and Segundo Paucar get back home to their families, in their neighborhoods, in the country they call home.