Living Classrooms Foundation leads a major community service and job-training initiative, Project SERVE (Service- Empowerment- Revitalization- Volunteerism- Employment Training). SERVE provides on-the-job training for 150 unemployed and disadvantaged young adults per year in marketable skills while they revitalize Baltimore neighborhoods. Due to the growing number of ex-offenders returning to these neighborhoods, SERVE expanded to include a "re-entry" initiative. While still incarcerated, participants begin receiving "wrap around" services, and on the day of their release, they become full-time SERVE members. These re-entry participants now comprise the majority of the individuals enrolled in the program. The major goals of SERVE are to decrease the overall crime rate in Baltimore City by decreasing recidivism rates; positively impact communities with direct services; provide workforce development; increase education and service-learning opportunities; help keep city neighborhoods clean and safe by decreasing environmental hazards and risks to public safety, and; help provide housing renovations for low-income residents. Our staff provides ongoing support to aid individuals in adjusting and returning to the community.
Individuals enrolled in SERVE live mostly in East Baltimore neighborhoods characterized by crime and violence, and generally suffer from poverty and involvement in the drug culture. They have a critical need for job skills and education. Most SERVE recruits face employment barriers such as lack of work skills, poor work history, unstable living situations, and lack of education and life skills necessary to advance in the work-world and remain independent from government assistance. Many Project SERVE members come from substance abuse treatment centers and/or incarceration. These barriers indicate a need for academic, vocational, and social skills training as well as work experiences.
Participants in Project SERVE spend 4-6 months in the program, where they conduct community revitalization projects while learning marketable work skills, professionalism, problem-solving, and social-skills training, and then transition into employment where they receive job retention support and aftercare from a Living Classrooms case manager for three years following their exit from the program. SERVE members are also counseled in furthering their education, and are provided with GED tutoring or referrals to other educational options. Living Classrooms funds the training and support services for Project SERVE participants through grants from a variety of supporting businesses and foundations.
The community revitalization projects provide Project SERVE participants with intensive support in acquiring job skills, nurture a sense of community stewardship, and improve physical conditions in the community. Participants gain on-the-job experience as they learn to operate bobcats, dump trucks, chain saws, and other commercial equipment while working as a team. Project SERVE has proven to be a successful and cost-efficient service for the city and communities of Baltimore. In turn, the program has provided hope, confidence, and essential skills and resources to help disadvantaged young adults contribute to society and create better lives for themselves and their families.
This program has proven to have a lasting impact on the aesthetic nature of City neighborhoods and public areas, and on each individual connected to the program, at a personal level. Support for Project SERVE represents a commitment to improving the streets and buildings of Baltimore, and an investment in the future of each client we serve, helping them start a career and make their own contribution to cleaning up Baltimore. Project SERVE is an important asset to the development and preservation of the City, shown through improvements made to community buildings and tourist areas, and to the creation of stronger families and a greater workforce by creating opportunity for achievement in a demographic where second chances are not typically possible.
The Fresh Start program serves youth and communities in Baltimore City and Washington, DC.
Fresh Start is a 40-week job skills training program that serves out-of-school youth, ages 16-19, most of whom are referred by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. The program uses carpentry as a medium to teach reading, writing, math, history, and science. Students work in the Foundation's Maritime Institute workshop and the Douglass-Myers Maritime Park boatbuilding workshop, building toolboxes, furniture, and boats. They also receive classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring. The curriculum is designed to increase self-reliance, teach problem solving and academic skills, and demonstrate how academic skills and knowledge are used in a practical work environment.
Fresh Start students increase their math, reading, and writing levels by an average of 1.5 grade levels while in the program. 75-80% of graduates remain employed and/or in school for three years after completion of the program.
The Fresh Start program is one example of how Living Classrooms is changing lives by teaching marketable job skills. The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Youth Employment Coalition continue to recognize Living Classrooms' Fresh Start program for "best practices working with at-risk youth" and for embodying a "continuous improvement process."
In partnership with Catapult Learning Systems, Career Starters is a youth employment and training program targeting at-risk out-of-school youth. The program is designed to re-engage Baltimore County out-of-school youth ages 16-18, and help them to complete their education and choose gainful jobs and careers. Upon completion, graduates are provided with one year of job retention services, including regular contact and further training. Living Classrooms is subcontracted to provide Job Readiness training, job placement or assistance with further education, and continuous support for one year. Throughout the training course, students utilize technology and a variety of resources to assist them in areas such as transportation, budgeting, banking, establishing credit, and dealing with relationships and families. In addition, students participate in community service and practice the job skills they learn in the classroom. The curriculum is aimed at enhancing character development and developing awareness for responsibility of one's self.