Southwest Baltimore includes neighborhoods plagued by the urban trifecta of crime, drugs and poverty. Several thousand children and youth living in this area attend a half dozen public schools which typically struggle with problems of their own, including a high teacher turn-over, a lack of parental involvement, inadequate resources and poorly maintained facilities and infrastructure. Yet many residents in the area are not ready to give up. They remain hopeful and are actively working for a better future.
In 2018, a group of neighbors and friends started to meet and talk regularly about what could be done to ensure children and youth in southwest Baltimore grow and develop healthier and have a clear pathway to a more productive and meaningful lifestyle through sports and recreation. They wanted to create more opportunities for youngsters to gain confidence, be part of a positive peer culture, learn about teamwork, discipline, setting goals and encounter supportive people and coaches at every turn.
Most of them had benefitted considerably from organized sports growing up. What became of these discussions was the creation of the Southwest Sports and Fitness Alliance (SSFA). As a volunteer organization with a small budget and no staff or space to work from they found a home with another neighborhood organization, the Southwest Partnership or SWP. SWP is the umbrella organization of seven neighborhood associations and six anchor institutions. SWP became the Alliance’s fiscal agent and the affiliation allowed donors to receive charitable tax-deductions or comply with IRS regulations for charitable foundations.
Additional neighbors and friends were brought in to form a Board of Directors and the Alliance incorporated in March, 2019 as a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization with Ivan Leshinsky, a retired nonprofit executive, serving as its volunteer director. Together, they reached out to schools and committed leaders in the area who were engaging groups of children and youth in a variety of sports and recreational activities and “quietly” working with very limited resources. These leaders would all agree that they need a lot of support to sustain themselves and achieve better results. These are some of the people and groups the Alliance is currently supporting in a variety of ways. The Alliance makes use of a growing social media presence and continues to expand its network by hosting monthly Sports Round Tables where people representing different organizations and other community members come together to tackle the challenge of ensuring that sports and recreation are an integral part of an opportunity rich environment.