Watson brings a passion, compassion to the Y
New grant manager charged with helping nonprofit serve more youth
It is not unusual to sense helplessness in a homeless child. For Meredith Watson, that feeling is intensified a thousand-fold.
Baltimore City has about 3,000 homeless people, according to a 2007 city census. As a result, said Watson, who has been named grant manager of the Y of Central Maryland, more money is needed to house more homeless youngsters. That's her job, as she is responsible for acquiring funds from public, private and corporate entities to help the nonprofit Y serve more youth.
"Kids don't ask to be born and people are born into circumstances where they might not have the same things that others have," Watson said. "I have been blessed to have all these opportunities and I want to give back and do everything that I can to ensure that others have the same opportunities."
Watson said she gets a sense of pride knowing that she has made a difference in a person's life, even if that person doesn't know she exists.
The Y of Central Maryland currently provides an eight-week summer program through its New Horizons Day Camp, which provides educational enrichment services to homeless youth. The camp provides meals and offers trust and team-building exercises, mental health services, academic support, job preparation and work experience, according to the Y's Web site. However, the camp can accommodate only 50 children.
Watson's primary goal is to raise as much money as possible to continue such programs, but more importantly to maximize the number of children and families the Y serves. For Watson, the biggest obstacle is the current economic environment.
"It is very hard because everything is more competitive," she said. "There is less funding and more nonprofits that need it. People are holding on to what they have because there is so much uncertainty, but we need the funding because so many parents need a place for their kids to go."
The Y of Central Maryland is not the only nonprofit in the region affected by the depressed economy. The Center for Nonprofit Advancement, which works to strengthen and promote nonprofits in the Greater Washington area, surveyed its nonprofit members in December on the impact of economic conditions.
It found that nearly 72 percent receive funding from foundations and 41 percent anticipate suspending programs or cutting staff this year. Also, 26 percent have already heard from their donors that less funding will be provided in the coming months.
Glen O'Gilvie, CEO of the center, said it is hard for anyone to raise money these days, but believes Watson has an advantage.
"Her position will be challenging but not impossible. Their focus on kids is a benefit and will make it that much easier," O'Gilvie said. "The future generation is always on every funder's mind. If she can articulate the return on investment and outline the outcomes that the programs will produce, then she will be successful."
A 29-year-old resident of Baltimore, Watson said she has always had a passion for children. She received her bachelor's in child psychology from Duke University and is working on a master's in nonprofit management at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
"I've always been interested in the behavior of people. I didn't want to be a psychologist, but I knew I wanted to help kids," Watson said.
Jeff Sprinkle, chief philanthropy officer for the Y, said Watson's passion for her job is evident in how she presents herself. The organization was looking for a new grant manager and when Watson applied for a job in October, her financial experience as well as dedication to service impressed Sprinkle.
"She left an excellent impression," he said. "She was very professional and you can see that she was focused and a great communicator. She has had a breadth of different responsibilities in the past and I knew she would bring great energy to the Y."
Watson previously was assistant director of development at Anne Arundel Community College and director of annual giving programs for St. Timothy's School in Stevenson.
"She's a positive, self-motivated professional," Sprinkle said. "I enjoy working with her because of all that she brings to this organization."
Watson said it will take a while to build strong relationships with potential funding sources, but she has to start somewhere.
"People don't know we are the largest provider of child care and Head Start in Maryland," she said. "People don't know a lot about our programs."
In her spare time, Watson said, she loves to travel and has been to Ghana, St. Martin, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Germany, France and Mexico. When she is not traveling or helping children, she enjoys reading old Southern literature.
"I have always been fascinated with Southern history and I am a big Civil War buff," Watson said.