Did you know that the South Baltimore peninsula is home to nine different human service organizations that, among other things, provide shelter for homeless women and children, advocate for blind Americans, and resettle Afghan refugees?
The offices of these nonprofits are often inconspicuous – you have probably never noticed many of them – but the impact of their work is felt across the city, country, and even the world. Here’s an introduction to each of these organizations, the work they do, and the volunteer opportunities they offer you and other residents of South Baltimore. – Steve Cole, Editor-in-Chief
[Note: This story has been updated since it was first published in the December 2021 newspaper edition of the Peninsula Post.]
American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, 1800 Johnson Street
This education-focused nonprofit provides more free braille books to blind people than any other nongovernmental program in the United States, according to executive director and SoBo resident Mark Riccobono. Co-located with the National Federation of the Blind on the west side of Riverside Park since 1978, the organization seeks to ensure that blind people have access to braille materials and services. Key activities include connecting blind people with resources and support services, providing blind children with free children’s books, assembling and distributing a braille pocket calendar, and administering an online “shared braille” library to facilitate the exchange of braille books.
Operations on Johnson Street are supported primarily by volunteers and a small paid staff. Volunteer opportunities include assembling pocket calendars (no knowledge of braille required), online cataloging of hundreds of books in its shared braille program, and packaging books for shipping. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about current opportunities. Donations are accepted online.
Baltimore Outreach Services, 701 S. Charles Street
BOS operates a 40-bed emergency shelter for homeless women and children 24/7, year-round. Incorporated by Christ Lutheran Church as a nonprofit in 2002, BOS is one of only three Baltimore City shelters that serve children. With the goal of addressing the underlying causes of homelessness, BOS also provides women with tools and resources to remain stably housed and independent. The paid staff of 14 serves about 225 women and children a year. Services include educational programming, health and mental health services, job training, and employment counseling.
Many members of the church and neighbors in the surrounding area volunteer at BOS. Volunteers can help prepare weekend meals (on-site or via frozen casserole drop-offs), collect hygiene items (toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, lotion, brush, comb), and help maintain BOS housing units for families leaving the shelter (paint, electrical, carpeting). Donations accepted online provide kitchen furnishings and linens for families leaving the shelter; culinary work kits; and food, clothing, and shelter for families living in the shelter.
The Baltimore Station, 140 W. West Street
This residential program aims to provide homeless male veterans suffering from chronic substance abuse disorder with the tools they need to live a life of recovery, earn a sustainable income, and attain permanent housing. Formed in South Baltimore in 1989, Baltimore Station serves 300-plus men a year at two locations (West Street and in West Baltimore). Staff develop individual treatment plans with each man, which include counseling, therapeutic activities (music, art, drama, journaling), mental health services, and workforce development. A new out-patient program provides services to men who have graduated from the residential program.
About three dozen paid staff work at the two centers. Volunteers are a core part of the organization, says deputy director Kim Callari. The primary volunteer activity is serving the men a meal and sitting down with them to share that meal. Volunteers come in as groups (churches, businesses, families) and individually. Contact volunteer coordinator Lilly Frazier at email@example.com for details. Donations of toiletries, pillows, and other essentials can be dropped off or purchased online through an Amazon wish list.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore, 1201 S. Sharp Street
This voluntary, out-of-school-time program focuses on helping young people reach their full potential as responsible, caring citizens. The organization’s administrative office moved to S. Sharp Street in 2018. The office’s 30 paid staff provide administrative support and leadership to the clubs in the Baltimore area, including nearby locations in Westport and Brooklyn and a new one on the Eastern Shore. Programs focus on academics and career planning, character and leadership, and healthy lifestyles. The Baltimore area clubs served about 600 young people before Covid.
Volunteers work with young people as mentors, arts instructors, homework helpers, and coaches at club locations, says Jesse Schaefer, director of development and communications. Photography and videography skills are also sought to help capture various club activities and programs. The first step in volunteering is to complete the online interest form. Donations are accepted online.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, 700 Light Street
Dedicated to serving vulnerable immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in the United States, LIRS was founded in 1939 to aid European refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. Its headquarters, which has been in Baltimore for more than 20 years and now employs nearly 200 staff, administers a national network of local partners in more than 40 states that provide funding, training, and technical assistance to refugee children and families. LIRS also recruits, trains, and supports foster families to provide care to unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S. border; provides educational and workforce development programming to help refugees access greater socioeconomic mobility; and offers therapeutic mental health services to address the trauma that many children and families have experienced.
Volunteer opportunities include meal assistance, English-language tutoring, apartment set-ups, transportation, mentorship, and advocacy to elected officials. Opportunities for longer-term community cosponsorship of refugee families are also available; see the “Circle of Welcome” program on the LIRS website. Donations are accepted online.
Lutheran World Relief, 700 Light Street
This international aid and development organization helps to build stable agricultural economies and respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises in East and West Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2019, LWR merged with IMA World Health to form a 550-person organization with headquarters in Baltimore and some operations in Washington, D.C., according to the Baltimore Sun. Programs help to improve rural economies through partnerships with local communities to create resilient economies rooted in agriculture, promote sustainable farming practices, and provide humanitarian assistance when disasters strike.
Several volunteer activities are described on the LWR website, including making “mission quilts” and building “kits of care” targeted for specific needs (schools, baby care, personal care, etc.). You can also support agricultural economies directly by purchasing “LWR Farmers Market” coffee, which is directly sourced from farmers participating in LWR projects. Donations are accepted online.
National Federation of the Blind, 200 E. Wells Street
A membership organization, NFB represents some 50,000 blind Americans and is based on the philosophy that blindness is not a characteristic that defines individuals or their future. NFB advocates to defend the rights of blind people at the national and local level with affiliate chapters in every state. From its South Baltimore headquarters, which opened in 1978, about 70 employees provide administrative support, legislative outreach, and national meeting planning. Staff manage NFB-Newsline, a free audio news service for the print-disabled, and an extensive catalog of products for sale to the blind or those experiencing vision loss. NFB also supports a summer youth program that teaches braille and other blindness skills and training in nonvisual access to the Internet and other technologies.
Volunteer opportunities at the headquarters location, which were temporarily reduced due to the pandemic, include helping with major mailings and the shipment of supplies for various programs. Opportunities are also available with the local Baltimore chapter (contact Chris Danielsen, firstname.lastname@example.org). Donations are accepted online.
Salvation Army of Central Maryland, 814 Light Street
Providing a range of social services is part of the mission of this international religious organization that strives to meet human needs without discrimination. Active in Baltimore since 1880, the Salvation Army has been on the peninsula for generations and in its current location since the 1990s. The headquarters staff of 18 provide administrative support for programs including feeding the homeless, helping people with rental assistance, sponsoring Boys & Girls Clubs, and aiding victims of human trafficking. Staff also operate a food pantry and host volunteer events on site.
Volunteers help with administrative duties in the Light Street office year-round and are a key part of the Salvation Army’s iconic Christmas season appeals. Red Kettles staffed by bell-ringing volunteers raise funds for many of the organization’s programs. (A digital kettle is now available for online donations.) The Angel Tree program collects donations of toys, clothing, books, and other gifts for children in need. Volunteers at the center help sort gifts and package them for delivery. Call volunteer coordinator and South Baltimore resident Samantha Bowman for more information at 410-783-2920, ext. 50103. Donations are accepted online.
South Baltimore Learning Center (SBLC Learning Works), 28 E. Ostend Street
When it first opened in 1990, SBLC Learning Works focused on helping educationally disadvantaged adults in South Baltimore earn a high school diploma. The center now serves all residents of the city with a broader mission. “We are an education and workforce development organization now, preparing folks for post-secondary opportunities, no matter what they are,” says executive director Sidney Wilson. Programs include GED (General Education Development) test prep classes and tutoring, a “career skills academy” to expose learners to new career paths, digital literacy training, and an online assessment to earn a high school degree based on work and life experience.
Many of the programs shifted to online during the pandemic, and few learners (over 700 prepandemic) or staff (about 25) have returned in person to the center. Wilson hopes this will change soon. He’s also hoping for a rebound in the number of volunteers – “the life blood of our success” – who provide one-on-one tutoring and administrative support and serve on board committees. Applications for volunteers to work with learners are being accepted online, as are donations.