By Jerrell Bratcher

Teen participants of HeartSmiles Summer Institute have been working on The Granny Project, which aims to help close the gap on food insecurity among youth by bringing healthy, well-balanced meals to our Baltimore communities.

The Granny Project is a nutrition program concept developed by the young people in the HeartSmiles Summer Institute. This program is a multi-generational approach to food insecurity and will pair youth with senior citizens—grannies and granddaddies—who are strong figures in their community and have a passion for cooking. The grannies and granddaddies will prepare a popular, traditional family recipe side-by-side with youth. Each granny and granddaddy will cook with small groups of teens as cross-generational relationships between the grandparents and young people deepen and the young people will develop cooking skills. The Granny Project program will be held at community kitchens in Baltimore City four times each month. Youth participants will be able to earn a ServSafe Food Handler and ServSafe Manager certifications. Each session will have an online media component, allowing youth to share their experiences and what they are learning with their peers through social media.

The first Granny Project event will be on August 1, 2019, from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at CitySeeds, 1412 N Wolfe St, Baltimore, MD 21213. Currently, we have three grandparents and 60 youth participating.  

HeartSmiles is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving young people in Baltimore City who want to turn their great ideas into thriving small businesses. Since 2015 HeartSmiles founder Joni Holifield has dedicated her life to serving youth and young adults in Baltimore City. She became a partner and friend of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health in 2016 through a Youth Leadership and Advocacy Network group focused on the Baltimore City Health Department’s Youth Health and Wellness Strategy. Since that time, HeartSmiles has become a key partner to the Center’s Youth Advisory Board. The partnership supports the mission and vision of the Center by applying and demonstrating the Center’s core principles of love, trust, commitment and respect with special emphasis on equity. The Center’s Youth Advisory Board, HeartSmiles Thriving Thursdays, and HeartSmiles Summer Institute represent the diversity of Baltimore adolescents across many backgrounds, socioeconomic status, neighborhood and age. Resources, support, and relationships with caring adults help to level the field for young people who are often stigmatized by the neighborhood in which they reside, what school they attend, their family’s access to resources and their mental health status.

HeartSmiles vision is to instill hope, passion, sense of belonging and an entrepreneurial spirit within youth living in under-privileged communities so that they might realize and harness their strength to break generational cycles of mindset and financial poverty. HeartSmiles mission is to motivate, inspire and empower Baltimore's youth to BMORE through the idea of entrepreneurship and leadership.

HeartSmiles programs teach youth the fundamentals of starting and sustaining a small business; teach youth how to identify and demonstrate character traits of an effective people leader; and help youth build confidence, self-esteem and self-worth through self-discovery and acceptance.

Special thanks to our program’s event partners and sponsors:

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Baltimore

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The Johns Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Adolescent Health

Bloomberg Baltimore Summer YouthWorks Fellows

The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development

Urban Alliance

Living Classrooms Foundation

The Black Mental Health Alliance

City Seeds

Connie’s Chicken & Waffle’s

Johns Hopkins Office of Government & Community Affairs

Connect & follow:

heartsmilesmd                  HeartSmiles, LLC          heartsmilesmd


Jerrell Bratcher                       Star Rollins    

443-768-1661 (cell)                602-552-4954 (cell)

Joni Holifield, CEO & Founder, HeartSmiles /

443-271-4075 (cell)


“Baltimore’s heartbeat for youth advocacy, youth service, youth development, and youth leadership.”