Aspen Institute Pilots New Way To Build Neighborhood Trust With 10 Hyper-Local Grants in Baltimore

August 9, 2021

Simple applications, local judges, and M&T Bank partnership yield $7,000 awards


Contact: Michael Skoler
Communications Director Weave: The Social Fabric Project
c: 573-256-9600 ⏐

Baltimore, MD, August 9, 2021 –– M&T Bank and Weave: The Social Fabric Project, a program of the Aspen Institute, today announced winners of the first-ever Weaver Awards celebrating and supporting neighbors who are weaving Baltimore’s social fabric. Each awardee receives $7,000 for a project that meets a community’s emotional need for connection and belonging.

The program breaks the mold of typical community grantmaking in three ways:

  1. It supports connecting people at a time when many Americans feel divided and isolated
  2. It gives resources to often-overlooked community leaders who might not have the time, experience or non-profit status to apply for typical grants
  3. It aims to build a network of all Baltimore’s social weavers, whether or not they win grants, through an online community designed to offer long-term resources, skill workshops, peer support and potential partnerships

This year’s ten Weaver Awardees come from throughout the city:

  • Audrey Carter of the Oliver neighborhood who started the Team-up to Clean-up Project and will use the funds to beautify the community, offer youth stipends, and start a farmers’ market to address the fresh food shortage
  • Reverend Michele Ward who leads an association of block captains in the Greenmount West neighborhood and is launching the Lights On Greenmount West campaign to allow 140 homeowners to get solar-powered outdoor lighting for their stoops and back alleys and inspire informal outdoor community gathering
  • Rocky Brown who leads the Ellwood Park Project, which aims to attract more homeowners to the neighborhood, and will use the award to rehabilitate the park pavilion, resurface the playground and expand sports camps and youth programs
  • Naimah Sharif who works in Belair-Edison and West Baltimore through her nonprofit NLife, which creates programs and events to connect people to each other, their neighborhoods and communal celebration to promote social and physical wellness.
  • Aida Medina of Highlandtown leads Gallery Church Baltimore, where she uses her bilingual skills to connect teen moms, newcomers and families in need to free children’s clothes, diapers and formula.
  • Elijah Miles who works with Tendea Family in McElderry Park and is starting the year-round Tendea’s Servant Leaders Program for teens with a paid summer learning institute.
  • Danielle Battle of Cherry Hill founded RICH-Restoring Inner City Hope and will use the award for youth enrichment classes such as woodworking, STEM, conflict resolution, anti-bullying through improvisational comedy, mentoring and photography.
  • Ashley Esposito works for the State of Maryland and co-founded the Village of Violetville, Inc. to connect people and meet neighborhood needs from vaccinations to school supplies to beautification projects and community activities.
  • Geraldine Taylor and Arica Gonzalez of the Panway neighborhood work through the Urban Oasis, a community-created organization, and will use the award to support start-up grassroots projects in minority communities.
  • Duane “Shorty” Davis who works throughout Baltimore on his project Good in the Hood, BBQ’ing to bring people together at family-friendly events so they can connect, share food and ideas.

“We use the word ‘weaver’ to describe these important people because they are trusted and give trust, weaving their communities together through relationships,” says Frederick J. Riley, who leads the Weave Project at the Aspen Institute. “They are the people folks turn to when something happens or the community needs to act. They bring us together.”

“Growing up in Baltimore, I know how much these community Weavers meant in my life,” says Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “They made us proud and inspired us to look out for each other.”

Awardees will work on their projects between now and the end of the year. They’ll have regular progress check-ins with staff at the Weave Project, but no formal reports or budgets to submit. On September 19, they will be honored at M&T Bank Stadium when the Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs in a night game.

“M&T Bank knows trust is the growth engine behind our business and our communities,” says Augie Chiasera, M&T’s regional president for Greater Baltimore. “Through these awards, we are investing in the people who inspire all of us to be weavers of a strong, inclusive, and equitable Baltimore.”

M&T Bank and the Aspen Institute hope to offer another round of awards in Baltimore next year and expand the program to other cities. New York Times columnist and author David Brooks founded and chairs the Weave Project.

A 12-member selection committee chose the ten awardees from 100 people who applied or were nominated by neighbors. The judges were Shantell L. Roberts of Touching Young Lives, Inc., Judeith James of the Alternative Approaches to Mental Health Crisis Center, Ako Changa Onyango of AO Services, Inc., Krystle Starvis of the Aspen Institute, Antonio Tabora of the Latino Economic Development Center, Hershawna Frison of the Aspen Institute, Brian Gerado of Business Volunteers Maryland, Tanya R. Dorsey of M&T Bank, Nneka Nnamdi of Fight Blight Baltimore, Jim Peterson of M&T Bank, Crickett Woloson of the Elbow Fund, and Paul Taylor of the Mayor’s Office.

Read about the awardees and subscribe to updates on their progress at

Press Coverage Opportunity: please join us for the Weaver Awards Celebration at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum from 5:30 – 8:00 pm on Wednesday, August 11. RSVP at


About the Aspen Institute’s Weave: The Social Fabric Project
Weave: The Social Fabric Project is a nationwide program of the Aspen Institute that supports and inspires grassroots leaders who are building social trust and weaving an inclusive social fabric so their communities can thrive. Weave supports and strengthens these social weavers by connecting them, offering resources, opening doors to partnerships, and inspiring new generations of weavers. New York Times columnist and author David Brooks founded the project in 2018 and serves as its chair.

About M&T Bank
M&T Bank is a community bank serving New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Florida that offers advice, guidance, expertise, and solutions across the entire financial spectrum. In Greater Baltimore, M&T is one of the region’s largest corporate philanthropists, contributing $3.5 million annually to more than 200 nonprofit organizations.

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