Since 2012, the Promise Heights Promise Neighborhood initiative has offered a rich set of services to the Upton and Druid Heights neighborhoods on Baltimore’s west side as part of the US Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative. Using a cradle-to-career model, Promise Heights focuses on improving the developmental, educational, health, and career outcomes of families who live in Upton and Druid Heights or whose children attend any of the five Promise Heights partner schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made Promise Heights’ work more challenging—and the needs of residents more pressing. When lockdowns began and Baltimore schools closed in mid-March 2020, Promise Heights, like many organizations, had to figure out how to continue delivering services and respond to the emergency. Promise Heights moved quickly, shifting its priorities to providing residents with emergency resources such as food, diapers, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, rental assistance, computers, and internet hotspots. It also shifted all regular programming, in-school work, partner programming, collection of student data, and community outreach and events to online platforms while offering a limited number of socially distanced, in-person activities.
Promise Heights’ work in 2020 offers insights into how human service providers can adapt their school- and neighborhood-based services during this public health and economic crisis, including by
- prioritizing meeting the most pressing needs of families even if they were previously outside the scope of the program;
- adapting practices, offering flexibility, and rewarding creativity for staff;
- using social media to engage and share information; and
- acknowledging the impact of systemic racism and the need for advocacy.