Partner Content

Investing in Change

Philanthropy Tank seeds student-led community improvement projects
By Philanthropy Tank

Baltimore is brimming with bright ideas and brilliant minds. Yes, the city faces challenges, but there is beauty in coming together to build solutions. One group is often overlooked in that effort—kids. Charm City’s young people have unique ideas about how to tackle those issues, and on April 14, a cohort of CHANGEmaking students will be awarded funding for their ideas at an event at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture.

Philanthropy Tank Baltimore Executive Director Nakeia Jones says that each proposal is shaped by the student’s personal perspective on growing up in the city. “Every student’s project is different,” Jones says. “It depends on what their goals are.”

Founded in 2015 and brought to Baltimore in 2019, Philanthropy Tank asks students to identify the changes they’d like to see in their own communities—and then empowers them to become agents of that change. At a virtual event last year, the first cohort of CHANGEmakers pitched their projects to a panel of local investors, seeking grants of up to $15,000. This year, a second cohort of finalists, grades 8 through 12, will once again pitch projects in hopes of receiving funding, mentorship, and other critical support through Philanthropy Tank.

Among this year’s pitches spearheaded by Baltimore youth are an initiative to paint murals on abandoned buildings, bringing art and beauty to blighted neighborhoods; a community improvement closet, which will provide teens in under-resourced areas with clothes, toiletries, books, and other essentials; and a network of support for young people with incarcerated parents. Out of 48 applications, eight projects have made it this far. All of the finalists will receive some funding, but it’s up to the dynamic Philanthropist Mentors to decide whether to grant their requests in part or in full.

Jones emphasizes that bringing students together to build relationships with professional mentors is just as important as the money itself. “We want to empower them to be leaders, but first they need guidance on what that looks like,” she says. “We’re trying to create opportunities for students to learn transferable skills, stuff you can’t learn in the classroom.”

Take Samaya Nelson, a Saint Frances Academy ninth grader who will pitch her mural project at the finals event on April 17. She has already submitted a budget for materials, and will rely on funding and mentorship to help her scale up the initiative. The way Jones sees it, Nelson’s ambition to bring her talent as an artist and perspective as a young person to make change in the city can inspire new ways of thinking, not just in other young people but in all of Baltimore’s leaders. 

“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.”

Anyone can play a part in fostering leadership and development skills in Baltimore’s kids. Whether it’s partnering with other youth-based organizations across the city, securing funding for future cohorts of CHANGEmakers, or seeking new avenues to bring their ideas to life, Philanthropy Tank wants your help in bringing Baltimore’s young people the resources they need to execute their ideas..

Overall, the goal is for Philanthropy Tank to loop young people back into the conversation about seeding initiatives that can change the course of development in our city and its youth. “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.”

If you want to support Philanthropy Tank, or know a student who would make a phenomenal CHANGEmaker, the finals event on April 17 is a great place to start—and you’re invited. Originally scheduled for February 17, the event was postponed due to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, but is currently set to proceed in-person as planned. For more information on the event and other ways to get involved, visit