Partner Content

Investing Early

Philanthropy Tank to fund youth-led social projects
By Philanthropy Tank

A mural painting project to highlight beauty in blighted neighborhoods. A community closet with basics like clothes, toiletries, and books. A reading program to teach elementary students about diversity through literature. These are some of the bright ideas that will receive funding this year to take effect in communities across Baltimore. And unlike many previous entrepreneurial or charitable ventures, these ideas all come from voices too often missing in the discourse about Charm City—kids.

Baltimore’s young people are brimming with brilliant insights and smart solutions to the challenges the city faces. Philanthropy Tank, a nonprofit that was founded in 2015 and brought to Baltimore in 2019, seeks to empower those young people to be the change they want to see in their own communities, offering the chance to win seed money, mentorship and other support as they pursue their ambitions. At an event on April 14, eight such young people—or CHANGEmakers, as Philanthropy Tank Baltimore Executive Director Nakeia Jones calls them—will receive funding for projects they pitch to a panel of investors.

“Our students are ready to take the reins,” Jones says. “It’s really about giving them the tools and support they need to execute on their ideas. That may be financially, or it could also just be through mentorship. Every student and project are completely different.”

Originally envisioned as a Shark Tank-style pitch competition hosted at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, this year’s finals will take place virtually. Still, the moment will be no less significant. Judges narrowed down a strong pool of 48 applicants, all students in grades 8 through 12, to eight finalists, vying for grants of up to $15,000. All of the finalists will receive some funding, but it’s up to the Philanthropist Mentors to decide whether to grant their requests in part or in full. And with so many incredible finalists, the decisions will be tough.

Take Samaya Nelson, who sees the city with an artistic eye and hopes her mural painting project will inspire others to do the same. Nelson, a Saint Frances Academy ninth grader, is a rising community leader, but the funding and mentorship provided by Philanthropy Tank will help her scale up her initiative. For Jones, young people like Nelson can offer adults in the city a fresh perspective.

“Change doesn’t have to be overcomplicated, the way adults sometimes think about it,” Jones says. “Just because a building is abandoned, doesn’t mean it has to look abandoned.”

Philanthropy Tank’s previous CHANGEmakers have demonstrated an impressive track record. Isaiah Dingle, a previous winner, founded Explo-Foods, growing produce in a hydroponic garden (a garden with no soil). He worked closely with Philanthropy Tank mentors to plan and execute the project and discovered a strong community partner in service organization Civic Works, which provides Dingle with space for his garden at its Lake Clifton complex. Ania McNair, another winner whose project, “Not For Sale Youth” brings awareness to the issue of human trafficking, has hosted rallies in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., held a month-long art therapy summer camp, is producing a workbook teaching kids about self-care, and is developing a curriculum to teach middle school students the warning signs of kidnapping and human trafficking. Students like Dingle and McNair really are making change, and this year’s cohort will be no different.

“There is so much strength in our students, and the kids in our city in general,” Jones says. “Support them, give them opportunities, and you never know what will come of it.”

Here’s the best part—you are invited to join the online event to see these dynamic young people and their ideas in action. Seeding this talent, creativity, and leadership in our young people takes a village. If you know a student who would make a phenomenal CHANGEmaker, or want to support Philanthropy Tank as a donor, mentor, or community partner, the April 14 finals is a great place to get started. For more information on the event and other ways to get involved, visit