Meet Artaz (Taz) Cotton, an 18-year-old student born and raised in Baltimore. Last year, he juggled four part-time jobs, a full senior-year course load and the college application process. And yet, with the odds seemingly stacked up against him, Taz persevered. He will matriculate as a freshman at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore this coming fall.
The question to ask is: how did he do it? Last year, Taz participated in Bet on Baltimore – a summer entrepreneurship program for Baltimore City public high school students. As an enrolled student, he was provided the opportunity to learn the basics of design thinking and given the resources and coaching to develop a plan for his youth-driven initiative: Youth Leading Youth. Thanks to Taz’s vision and Bet on Baltimore’s resources, this peer mentoring group came to life in such a way that put young Taz on the map to receive scholarships and make his university dream a reality.
“This program really pushed me. Without it, I wouldn’t be going to school. Through Bet on Baltimore, I got to meet a lot of people who encouraged me to keep going, and because of their support, I am going to college this fall,” Taz said. “Bet on Baltimore is exactly what it means, it’s a bet on yourself, a bet on our youth… it really changes kids’ lives.”
Initiatives like Bet on Baltimore provide Baltimore city youth not only with key development opportunities but also a sense of purpose during the summer months. For those in lower-income areas, summer often means a lack of structure and sometimes even a lack of meals. According to some estimates, there are nearly 45,000 kids in Baltimore who need seats in summer programs.
Recognizing this need, the city’s top businesses and foundations have come together to create the Baltimore Summer Funding Collaborative. In just its fourth year, over $3.15 million in grants have been distributed this summer to support 81 high-quality programs throughout Baltimore City. The Summer Funding Collaborative includes the Abell Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Clayton Baker Trust, France-Merrick Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, The Hinkey-Benson Family Fund, Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, Lockhart Vaughan Foundation, the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and Under Armour as partners.
While the individual programs have a range of focuses – from literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to youth employment, environmental education and sports – the collective shares the same goal: to reduce summer learning loss and ensure more youth have the chance to reach their full potential.
“There is nothing more essential to the health and vibrancy of our city than the meaningful engagement of our young people, and particularly in the summer months,” said Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh. “I’m so grateful to our private and corporate partners for sustaining the Summer Funding Collaborative to ensure that the youth of our community have access to positive skill-building activities, academic enhancements, and healthy meals throughout the summer.”
Under Armour’s commitment to the city – particularly Baltimore’s youth – is no secret. For the past two years, Under Armour has invested in Bet on Baltimore, along with more than 10 other summer enrichment programs to provide opportunities to more than 1,600 young people in Baltimore. The investment is rooted in the brand’s belief that empowering youth is key to strengthening Under Armour's hometown. Under Armour invested in Bet on Baltimore in 2017 and 2018 and has been proud to host the graduation ceremony in partnership with Dent Education.
This summer, Bet on Baltimore received funding from Under Armour, the Weinberg Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to run three separate five-week sessions. Students had the opportunity to explore community issues via the “Social Innovation” track or tackle business challenges in the “Start-Up Garage” track. After learning from social entrepreneurs, start-up CEOs and community leaders, students created their own social or business enterprises, to be launched into full-fledged organizations during the school year. The students were then given the chance to compete for funding at Under Armour’s graduation ceremony. The students not only presented their social and business enterprises, but also shared their personal growth journeys from the summer. This year, Tala Charms – a company that turns customers’ personal stories into custom jewelry – won the grand prize, with Team K.C.I.O (Keeping Cords in Order) – a company that creates a headphone de-tangler – coming in as the runner-up.
Thanks to this program, Baltimore now has an additional 40 well-trained, young entrepreneurs, each of whom will carry a vision forward as they create opportunity for the city of Baltimore.