Local Youth Give Back

A young woman proudly displays a pink suit jacket.
Anaya Jones, an 11th grader at Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore

It’s that time of year when we reflect on all that we’re thankful for.

For these local teens, that’s Baltimore—and they’re giving back.

This past June, Philanthropy Tank, a nonprofit organization that aims to prepare eighth- to 11th-grade students by equipping them with funding and professional guidance to tackle social issues within the community, held its finals event.

There, four student groups from local high schools presented their ideas for making a positive change in Baltimore to a Shark-Tank -style panel of judges.

Afterward, the teens were collectively awarded $37,000 toward their projects and paired with philanthropist mentors to guide them as they make their ideas a reality.

This fall, we followed up with two of these students, and a finalist from last year, to see where their big ideas are going.

Green Living

Phoebe Taylor is saving the planet, one fourth grade class at a time. Her Philanthropy Tank pitch, Environauts, for which she received $8,000, involves her visiting Baltimore’s public schools and educating students about the environment, recycling, composting and waste disposal.

“I feel like environmental aspects aren’t in the school curriculum as often as they should be,” Phoebe says. “This is our home; we should take care of it.”

Phoebe, a 12th grader at Roland Park Country School, was inspired by her own experience learning about the environment when she was 12 years old. It was then that Phoebe found out not all plastics are recyclable.

“My goal is for kids to be more educated on all the environmental aspects we’re teaching about, practice recycling and/or composing and to use their knowledge to educate others and make their daily habits more environmentally friendly,” Phoebe says.

As a senior going to college next year, Phoebe has big plans. She hopes to study computer science to find ways to help conserve energy.

Higher Education

Phoebe wasn’t the only 2023 finalist with college on the brain. Chiemela Nwokoro, a 12th grader at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, is using the $7,500 she received to create SparkED, a digital platform where local students can find and access resources to further their education.

“SparkED will help students find opportunities and help with applications. These resources exist, but people don’t know about them,” Chiemela says.

Chiemela’s inspiration came from her own academic journey, trying to navigate standardized tests, scholarships and applications.

As the child of two immigrants in a school of more than 2,000 students, Chiemela struggled to make sense of everything.

“Even with guidance counselors, you are one of 2,000, and it’s pretty hard,” Chiemela says.
With the help of her mentor, Kevin N. Logan, the intake investigator for the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity, Chiemela has already hosted one community event with Philanthropy Tank so far.

“I want to have this platform [be] accessible for Baltimore area students. I hope for increased matriculation rates; I want students to go from high school to college confidently,” Chiemela says.

As of press time, SparkED, a project two years in the making, was slated to launch its website in October.

Currently, Chiemela visits community events to share school supplies and information about
the platform.

“Baltimore is special to me, because as someone who has lived here for 17 years, it’s where I call home,” Chiemela says.

Where Are They Now?

Anaya Jones, an 11th grader at Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore, took the stage at 2022’s Philanthropy Tank finals event. Anaya pitched “BACK TO WERK!,” a project she designed to help unemployed or underemployed women secure life-changing jobs.

BACK TO WERK! offers resume services via Zoom to women nominated by a survey. Then, one of these women is chosen for a full makeover, including a new outfit.

The clothes for these makeovers come from clothing drives organized by Anaya and her Philanthropy Tank mentor, Larry Simmons—a West Baltimore native with more than 20 years of experience directing youth and community development programs.

Anaya’s vision was inspired by seeing the way her own mother’s life changed when she got a job at Macy’s when Anaya was 7 years old.

“When I was creating BACK TO WERK!, it felt like a woman-based project and just—women supporting women,” Anaya says. “I look at my mom, my aunt, my cousin and it was really just all of us helping each other out and living together, so I feel it’s very important because I was raised that way.”

In the future, Anaya hopes to go to college for business and continue BACK TO WERK! as her full-time job.

About Heather M. Ross

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