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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter9:19 amAug 21, 20200

Former CEO defends Strong City amid complaints about fiscal sponsorships

“Though the business model has proven to be challenging since we were too under-resourced, Strong City was instrumental in launching many important initiatives,” Karen Stokes asserts in a statement to The Brew

Above: Karen Stokes pictured at Strong City’s newly renovated headquarters at the A. Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building in East Baltimore. (strongcitybaltimore.org)

Strong City Baltimore had “the best of intentions” and maintained “the highest integrity” when managing millions of dollars aimed at improving the lives of poor Black families in Baltimore, says its former CEO.

In her first remarks since discontent with Strong City was brought to light by The Brew, Karen D. Stokes said the nonprofit sought “to use our privilege as a white-led organization to support black-led initiatives.”

Last month, 19 mostly Black-led groups that entrusted their money to Strong City charged that it has “locked up” their funds, not paid vendors, ignored their calls and emails, and failed to produce promised financial statements.

“As clients, we have reached a breaking point,” the letter by the Strong City Client Coalition said.

Yesterday The Brew reported that Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming is investigating Strong City’s management of client funds.

Grassroots groups express alarm at Strong City Baltimore’s shaky finances (8/10/20)

Inspector General opens investigation into Strong City’s handling of grantee money (8/20/20)

Interim CEO Reginald Davis agreed two weeks ago to relay a message that The Brew would like to interview Stokes, who was said to be continuing to serve Strong City “in an advisory capacity.”

An email from Stokes last night was her first response.

Rapid Expansion

Stokes, who retired from her $130,000-plus a year job last April after 13 years at the helm, echoed earlier statements by the board of directors that Strong City is working diligently to enhance its formerly “under-resourced” staff.

The Brew reported yesterday that the nonprofit’s new director of fiscal sponsorship, hired last month, has tendered his resignation.

Since the 2015 Uprising, Strong City opened a new headquarters in East Baltimore and rapidly expanded its scope to help grassroots and community groups obtain and manage funds from the Baltimore Children & Youth Fund and other public and private sources.

Currently, the nonprofit says it manages the finances and payrolls of more than 125 programs and projects with assets of over $14 million. The programs range from rental assistance for the homeless to adult education, youth mentoring, and sports and dance activities.

Full Text of Stokes’ Statement:

“Over the past five years, Strong City became more focused on fiscal sponsorship work, which we did in an effort to use our privilege as a white-led organization to support black-led initiatives. The work we engaged in was done with the best of intentions and the highest integrity to support community-led initiatives that had few or no access to traditional funding support.

“Though the business model has proven to be challenging since we were too under-resourced, Strong City was instrumental in launching many important initiatives as well as getting the amazing Hoen Building rehabbed and occupied.

“Before my departure, we began a thorough process of increasing organizational capacity and updating accounting systems to meet the demands of our growing fiscal sponsorship program. I know this work continues. Fundraising and capital support for the Hoen Building were completely separate from the day to day operations of the organization and unrelated to its fiscal sponsorship program.

“For over 50 years, Strong City Baltimore (formerly the Greater Homewood Community Association) successfully worked to advance its mission of building and strengthening neighborhoods and people in Baltimore. A recently published book, ‘Building Blocks – Stories of Neighborhood Transformation from Strong City Baltimore,’ details much of its neighborhood revitalization work over the past 15 years. I am proud of what I was able to contribute to the achievements and legacy of Strong City.”
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• To reach this reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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