older adults are leading change


Building intergenerational leadership to revitalize Baltimore’s neighborhoods


Like many older American cities, Baltimore has experienced a prolonged period of change. With a decline in manufacturing has come a steady erosion of wealth. At its height, it was a metropolis of nearly 1 million people; by 2010, the city had shrunk to just over 600,000.

Today, however, businesses are beginning to move back. The city is finding ways to attract entrepreneurs and grow its main street. Visitors are drawn to experience a creative, diverse, and history-filled place that is increasingly seen as dynamic and vibrant. People are once again choosing to call Baltimore home. In 2012, for the first time since the 1950s, the city’s population actually grew.

For the Baltimore Community Foundation, which has worked for more than four decades to help Baltimore thrive, one of the most important measures of the city’s revitalization rests in its neighborhoods. There, Baltimore’s renaissance is still taking root. For too many Baltimore residents, neighborhoods that once flourished remain run-down. Even as Baltimore City shows signs of a turnaround, the Foundation has wanted to do more to bring new life to the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. But how?

In 2008, the Foundation began exploring a new approach to their investments in neighborhoods—a model whose success ultimately contributed to a decision to refocus their entire grantmaking portfolio. At the center of this approach was the realization that there was an existing, on-the-ground resource just waiting to be tapped: older adults.

“In a city that’s constantly losing residents, where we can’t seem to keep people, hands-down [we hear from older adults], ‘This is my home, I’m going to stay here and make this place better,’” explains Baltimore Community Foundation Program Officer Jonalyn Denlinger. “They are the glue that holds the neighborhoods together. It is the older adults that continue to make Baltimore a vibrant city.”

With support from The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Community Experience Partnership, a national initiative that helped communities mobilize older adults to create positive change, the Foundation planned and launched Neighbors in Deed.




  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Total population = 621,000
  • 55+ population = 142,000 (23%)


  • 785 older adults (50% men) recruited; a majority of local leadership team volunteers were new to the organizations where they gave their time
  • 1,273 older adult volunteer hours and 3,082 leadership hours donated, valued at $71,040
  • 7,009 participants of all ages engaged 27 neighborhood events and two diversity workshops were held; one documentary film created
  • 255 storm drains painted, 676 bags of trash collected, 343 trees planted
  • 15 partner organizations engaged; 10 partners received Coming of Age training; two partners worked in Communities for All Ages framework (from Temple University)