From one of the oldest families in Baltimore, Maryland, James Piper Bond has seen the city face its share of challenges, but he has also seen the opportunities to provide its community members new experiences that may not have been previously available. After sailing across the South Pacific, he returned to Baltimore in 1986 and began working with the Lady Maryland Foundation as a volunteer, later becoming the Foundation’s first full-time employee as education director. The Lady Maryland Foundation was later renamed to Living Classrooms in 1992. Since joining the nonprofit over 30 years ago, James Piper Bond has devoted his time and energy to building connections with people of all ages and to developing experiences to work toward disrupting the cycle of poverty.
Flagger Force: How would you describe the Living Classrooms organization?
James Piper Bond: The Living Classrooms Foundation, which began in 1985, is focused on helping youth, adults, and families reach their potential academically, in their workplace, and in their lives. Using hands-on, learning-by-doing, project-based training, we have helped thousands of people over the years. With a focus on workforce development, it is all about helping people, especially those who may have dealt with challenges in their lives, to gain necessary skills to be successful in the workplace.
Flagger Force: There are a lot of opportunities presented to this organization, how do you navigate them and prioritize them?
James Piper Bond: We have a team of over 500 staff and volunteers who work together cohesively, all focused on producing quality results in any of our 30 Living Classrooms sites in the Baltimore-Washington area. We also have performance management systems that measure what we do and how we execute. Not only does this assist with our evaluation but it shows a return-on-investment to any of our funders, partners, and supporters. Those are two things that keep us grounded. Then as we look to scale, we draw our attention to smart growth. Our goal is to serve as many children, youth, and adults in an effective way in all our projects, programs, and facilities.
Flagger Force: Earlier you mentioned workforce development, how does Living Classrooms drive the development of programs and how do they work?
James Piper Bond: Throughout Baltimore, there are four community centers, with a new one opening in Washington this spring that are adjacent to or embedded in public-housing communities. We hear every day that these community members are looking for work, and it is our responsibility to respond to those needs. We create a pipeline of interested individuals and then create the partnerships. Some examples of our current partnerships are with Bayview Hospital and Power52.
Flagger Force: What are some qualities you look for in developing a partnership with an organization for workforce development?
James Piper Bond: As we evaluate companies that are interested in partnering, we ensure that they aren’t just providing a “job” to our members. The people we represent want to build a career, a new life for themselves. But it isn’t always about providing a paycheck for our members; it is about helping that individual gain the confidence they need to see the opportunities and advancement beyond what they may have known before. Additionally, the company itself also needs to understand what their needs are when looking to partner with us. When first beginning a conversation with a potential company, we reverse engineer a job and its training based on what their goals are and what they can offer. By having our career counselors work with the company as the program is being built out, enables the needs and skill sets of our members to be included in the planning process.
Flagger Force: Tell us about your Project SERVE program and how it relates to workforce development?
James Piper Bond: This program stands for Service, Empowerment, Revitalization, Validation, and Employment training and has the mission to help returning citizens get back on their feet by having rapid attachment to work, earning a paycheck, and reentering the community. There are over 5,000 returning citizens a year coming back to Baltimore city. They have skills and want to be productive but need that second chance. That is what this program provides them. Our partners vary from the National Parks Service, the Inner Harbor Business Improvement District, and now, Flagger Force. Each year we continue to expand the program based on the feedback we receive from our members and community partners.
Flagger Force: What most excites you about the future of Living Classrooms?
James Piper Bond: I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of what we have done for the next generation, to creating stewards of the future, and to helping disrupt the cycle of poverty. We are making a dent, it isn’t happening as quickly as one would hope, but it is happening. At the end of the day, if we can help people to better themselves and be successful, there is nothing more rewarding.