The recent riots in Baltimore – sparked by unrest over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man in police custody – brought out the worst and the best in the city’s people.
The day after rioters smashed windows, set fire to police vehicles and tore through businesses in the West Baltimore neighborhood, neighbors volunteered to help. They swept up broken glass, cleared debris and helped business owners clean up their stores.
That immediate outpouring from volunteers was heartwarming to see, says Kelly Hodge-Williams, executive director of Business Volunteers Maryland, but there’s more volunteers can do in the long term.
“Decades of systemic problems have led to two Baltimores,” Hodge-Williams says. One is poor and mostly African-American, with low-performing schools and high unemployment. The other is middle and upper class and more diverse, with better schools and more job opportunities.
Business Volunteers Maryland, part of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, is exploring ways it can channel volunteer power toward addressing deep-seated problems that have plagued Baltimore – and other cities – for decades. The organization is focusing on four key issues: youth development, quality education, employment and services for those in poverty.
“Our unique platform is that we mobilize human capital,” Hodge-Williams says of Business Volunteers Maryland. The nonprofit matches professionals skilled in such fields as marketing, human resources, finance and more with local nonprofits who need their volunteer services, in addition to connecting people with more traditional volunteer opportunities through its Volunteer Central website.
Hodge-Williams says that while direct-service, hands-on volunteers are essential in the ongoing cleanup and restoration of West Baltimore, “high-level thinking and talent” are also critical in the years to come. Such volunteers – whether they come through corporate employee volunteer programs or on their own – are able to help nonprofits develop and execute plans to better meet their missions.
On June 17, Business Volunteers Maryland will hold its annual doSOMETHING! for a Better Baltimore event, during which prospective volunteers can meet with representatives from a host of nonprofits. This year, given the recent violence on the streets, the event will host nonprofits that address youth development, education, employment and poverty.
A public-private partnership called One Baltimore launched this month to focus on the systemic problems facing the city. Business Volunteers Maryland is planning to be part of the initiative.
“We’re all at a point of trying to figure this out,” says Hodge-Williams, adding that her organization is planning regular meetings with corporations and businesses to determine the best ways to get their employees involved. “We see this as an opportunity.”