Why an early $2.1 million commitment to Baltimore summer youth programs is especially important right now

byDarius Graham and Rachel Duden |

We have just turned the page on a new year but a long, challenging winter lies ahead. Perhaps more so this year than ever, we are looking forward to summer—not only for the promise of warmer weather and a pandemic that is under control but also because summer in Baltimore brings many great enrichment opportunities for the city’s youth. Whether an internship, camp, or league, summer gives thousands of Baltimore youth the opportunity to explore a passion or learn a new skill.

For years, the Weinberg Foundation has been a major funder of summer opportunities for Baltimore youth—and even with the uncertainty of the pandemic, this year will be no different. For summer 2021 the Foundation is committing $2.1 million to ensure these important opportunities are available for our region’s youth. Here is why these summer opportunities are important and why the Foundation supports them in a major way year after year, pandemic or no pandemic:

  1. Summer opportunities provide more than just a fun experience. They offer critical tools that allow the most vulnerable members of the community to stay on target when it comes to academic achievement. Compelling research conducted at Johns Hopkins University has shown that students lose weeks and months of learning while they are out of school in the summer, with low-income students faring far worse than their more affluent peers. Summer can be precarious for older youth as well. The National Summer Learning Association reports that one-third of first-generation college-bound high school graduates fail to enroll in college the summer after their senior year. This phenomenon, coined “summer melt,” is true even if students have already been accepted into a college or university. However, when youth have summer programs to keep them engaged during that critical time, outcomes improve dramatically.
  2. The Summer Funding Collaborative is a demonstrated model for how funders can work together and create a more equitable grant application process for nonprofits. This collaborative brings together 13 funders and in 2020 awarded $3,550,460 to summer programs serving 8,000 youth. It is a one-stop shop for nonprofits to apply for funding instead of working on separate requests to multiple funders. Importantly, funders receive youth feedback on requests and take their recommendations into account when making decisions. For 2021, the Weinberg Foundation is committing $1.55 million to the Summer Funding Collaborative.
  3. YouthWorks, the summer youth jobs program in Baltimore City, consistently provides meaningful paid job opportunities and professional development to youth ages 14-21. Operated by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, YouthWorks adapted to the pandemic early on by switching to a primarily virtual format. While other cities canceled their summer youth programs, YouthWorks employed 4,500 participants with each receiving approximately $1,100 in wages. For the youth and their families these wages are meaningful, and the skills and connections made at these jobs can set them on the course for a better future. For 2021, the Foundation is committing $450,000 to YouthWorks, which will cover wages for 200 youth participants and 13 job coaches who provide individualized support to participants. The Foundation is also supporting the summer youth jobs program in Baltimore County with a grant of $100,000. While this is a separate program run by a separate jurisdiction, the Foundation is actively working with City and County leaders to facilitate shared learning and collaboration across jurisdictions and programs.

The Foundation made these commitments well before summer so that programs are aware of funding decisions as they undertake early planning in a rapidly evolving COVID-19 environment. These early commitments provide predictability and flexibility as plans are made for in-person, virtual, or hybrid models. The Foundation remains steadfast in its commitment to summer opportunities for youth in Baltimore, especially during these difficult times.