By the time I met Nancy Wolff – later Minieri – in 1995, she was just launching Leadership Maryland, an offshoot of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Nancy was looking for someone to wrangle her statewide program sessions while she managed virtually everything else. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Already a life-long leadership fan, I had incorporated Maryland Leadership Workshops, Inc., graduated in the inaugural class of Leadership Greater Washington, and facilitated sessions and retreats for Leadership Montgomery. Admittedly, I was skeptical that any statewide program like Leadership Maryland could coalesce around a common agenda mission, and I told her so. I was delightfully wrong.
Flash forward over the next 25 years, and a significant portion of my life has been consumed running around the State helping build public and private communities of true believers. I stepped into a whole new world of opening and closing retreats, meeting brilliant and engaged leaders, and shepherding the best of our committed citizens through a gauntlet of new experiences, challenges and adventures in self-awareness, far beyond my expectations.
They say one’s life passion should do three things. Your work should inure to the benefit of others. It should develop skills or talents already nascent within you. And it should animate your deepest values through action. My day job at Strathmore was fulfilling, but the chance to regularly work with hundreds of new and emerging community activists from all around the State was simply too good to pass up. I signed on and never looked back. It even led to helping create several local programs in Southern and Western Maryland.
After retiring from Strathmore two years ago, surviving the COVID lockdown, becoming a new Grandpa, and recovering from a brief health scare, I have a new perspective on life. And just as each of you have left ‘footsteps’ during your time in Leadership Maryland and gone on to building new dreams, I now look forward to having the time and space to listen with new ears to anyone plagued with curiosity about their own leadership potential. To anyone still possessed of a relentless hunger to change the world for the better. To anyone still waiting for the next bus to their destiny.
Each year, MLW offers engaging week-long summer programs that provide middle and high school aged students with a true look at leadership—allowing them to discover their potential and cultivate their skills. While past programs have consisted of in-person workshops, team projects, and peer-led group discussions, this year’s layout was completely altered due to the pandemic.
Initially, MLW announced that the 2020 summer programs would be cancelled in order to ensure the health and safety of delegates and staff; however, after seeking the input of the community, it quickly became clear that this opportunity continues to be an integral part of many delegates’ growth as young leaders. The solution? Going completely virtual for a brand new MLW @Home experience. Luckily, MLW’s staff consists of many educators who had prior experience with distance learning and using cyber platforms.
“The majority of our staff and directors are young professionals who are fluent with digital platforms,” said Diane D’Costa, director of MLW @Home, “we navigated the transition relatively seamlessly once we learned our traditional residential programs were no longer an option.”
Shifting to virtual activities allowed MLW @Home to offer the summer program at no cost to delegates for the first time, meaning all interested students could take advantage of this chance to build leadership skills and interact with a diverse group of young leaders from across the state. While the program changes were drastic, a total of 490 delegates participated in the activities.
As for the online platform, MLW staffers had to quickly and collaboratively design interactive, social media-facilitated workshops, discussions, and challenges that directly correlated with what young people are currently experiencing in the world. Topics such as Intersectional Activism, Self-Aware Communication, and Advocacy in the Age of Instagram were introduced and discussed throughout the week.
The MLW team prepared for the new format with a virtual staff engagement process, which included crucial conversations about allyship and self-care, and the opportunity to seek professional advice from former staff. According to Devan Ogburn, director of the staff engagement program, “virtual communication allowed staff to reach aspects of the MLW community that we weren’t able to in the past; alumni were able to be actively involved with programming and assisting younger staff as well.”
Over 30 staffers were able to take part in the Instagram live discussions and engage with online content from the safety of their homes—no matter their location. “It is our hope that we can continue to shape the program to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our staff,” stated Ogburn, “we aim to integrate more virtual engagement into our core staff training.”
In addition to the delegates who attended MLW @Home, 30 rising seniors from Prince George’s County were given the chance to experience the MLW magic, thanks to First Generation College Bound (FGCB)—a program that connects students with resources to navigate the college admissions process. While some of the workshops from MLW @Home overlapped with FGCB, the program also offered a college and career readiness panel—made up of young professionals from the community and college admissions staff— as well as a workshop on professionalism.
The program for FGCB—overseen by Mandi Bhatt, Kara Ritterpusch, and Nick Schmitz—was designed from scratch, in order to be well-received on the online platform, and used accessible tools like Zoom, Thrively, and Kahoot to connect with delegates. According to Ritterpusch, “each day began with an introductory activity to encourage discussion, promote inclusion, and increase student comfort levels; overall, it was a wonderful experience that opened many doors for our students.”
While the MLW summer programs were certainly different in comparison to past years, the virtual approach allowed many delegates to connect with peers and trailblazers in their community—especially during a challenging time that calls for the guidance of resilient leaders.
To learn more about the MLW summer programs and other leadership opportunities, please visit mlw.org.
Deb Byrd ’98 leads new foundation serving Delmarva’s Christian community
Commitment and passion – that’s what Deb Byrd remembers most when she reflects on her experience as a member of Leadership Maryland’s Class of 1998. Even though she’d always considered herself a broad thinker – her 30-year career in local government on Maryland’s Eastern Shore had taught her to evaluate issues and potential impacts from every possible angle – she was still blown away by how much new perspective she gained from everyone she met in the program.
“As we traveled across the state, we met people from all walks of life, and what has stayed with me the most is everyone we spoke to – whether they focused on poverty, or education, or the environment, etc. – was absolutely, totally committed to what they do,” she says. “Everyone had a real passion for what they could offer, and we were constantly surrounded by a youthful energy and enthusiasm that many people tend to lose over the years. It was a reminder that the minute you lose your passion for what you do, it becomes just a job.”
Months after completing Leadership Maryland, Deb recalled that youthful passion and enthusiasm when she found herself deciding on the next chapter of her career. After a partisan turnover in local government forced her to resign her position as Dorchester County’s first county administrator, she landed a new job as general manager of a radio ministry that reached audiences throughout the Delmarva region on air and beyond online. Deb had immersed herself in spiritual studies in recent years – reading spiritual books and literature and enrolling in a local bible college (she would ultimately earn a master’s degree in Theology), and this new position allowed her to apply both her business/government acumen and her current interests. There she developed an outreach mission to connect community needs to helpful resources.
As the years passed, the media landscape evolved, and Deb’s ministry recognized their need to change with it. In 2015, the decision was made to sell off the radio station and its print assets. However, the corporate entity remained in existence under a new identity – the Christian Leadership & Community Foundation – and Deb stayed on as the organization’s president and executive director to further its mission to serve people on the Shore.
“Our ministry’s transition from radio/print outlet to community service organization was inspired both by my life experience and all I had experienced in Leadership Maryland,” says Deb. “We saw so much good stuff and it really emphasized why every person needs to decide what is meaningful to them. My life is all about helping people – finding even the smallest way to make a long-term difference in someone else’s life. Our radio station had been reaching and helping people every single day for the past 40 years, and I realized that we could combine my public service background with our ministry and create something that could make a significant impact here on the Shore.”
Since 2015, the Christian Leadership & Community Foundation (CLCF) has been committed to building leadership and support within the Christian community by providing guidance, mediation and assistance to local Christian ministries, para-ministries and non-profit organizations. Offering a wide array of workshops and seminars covering everything from grief and loss to grant writing; conflict management to family budgeting; and board/staff relations to organizational accounting, CLCF helps these organizations find the funds, counseling and guidance they need to reach their goals. In just five years, CLCF has served organizations all over the Delmarva region and accumulated a diverse and impressive collection of success stories, including:
Deb is the only full-time CLCF employee, along with a large network of part-time workers and volunteers. She is the primary grant writer, calling in other experts as needed depending on the challenge of the day – whether it be homelessness, hunger, addiction, education or any other community need. She considers her workplace to be anywhere but her desk – making meaningful connections everywhere she goes – and she approaches each day with the same energy and enthusiasm she remembers from her Leadership Maryland sessions.
“Leadership Maryland exposed me to people who had the bravery to move something forward that they believed in, without letting the naysayers get to them,” she says. “It definitely helped me recognize that you have to have passion for what you do – and when it’s gone, it’s time to move on. If you really love what you do, it’s never ‘just a job’, you never get lazy, and you never get tired of it.”
To learn more about the Christian Leadership & Community Foundation, please visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/clcf.maranatha/.
On what should have been Day 2 of our session in Western Maryland, we asked a few of our members from the region to comment on how the pandemic is impacting their sector:
Barry P. Ronan '97, President, UPMC - Western Maryland, on health care:
Even though it has been over twenty years since I was a member of the LMD Class of 1997, I continue to reflect on what I gleaned from my year with Leadership Maryland. Most notable was experiencing the roles that the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Greater Salisbury Committee and the Greater Baltimore Committee played in their respective regions. As a result, I, along with several other graduates of LMD from western Maryland, formed the Greater Cumberland Committee. TGCC has been serving Allegany and Garrett Counties in Maryland and Mineral County in West Virginia for the last twenty years. The accomplishments of TGCC throughout our region have been many and probably would not have happened without the foresight of a handful of LMD graduates.
The first wave of the COVID pandemic that began in March 2020 for the most part was manageable for my health system. The highest number of COVID-positive patients in our COVID ICU at one time was 19 with over half of them on ventilators. We continue to treat patients who are positive, but the majority are from local nursing homes. At the peak, our staff responded amazingly in the care of these patients; at no time was there any refusal to care for and treat these patients. We learned a great deal from the experience and are now much better prepared for the next wave. New opportunities grew out of the COVID experience such as greater acceptance of telemedicine, the creation of virtual everything from appointments, to waiting rooms, to staff working remotely. Much of what was created during the COVID crisis will be with us for a long time to come.
As it relates to challenges and needs for the region of western Maryland, although we are making progress, health status continues to be a challenge. UPMC Western Maryland has been focused on population health initiatives and addressing the social determinant of health for the last ten years. We are truly making a difference in the lives of so many, especially the poor and disenfranchised. In addition, we continue to deal with poverty and an increase in crime of which much is directly related to drugs. Over the last several years, the drug trade has found its way west of Baltimore. We formed a multi-disciplinary task force to deal with the opioid crisis. We have representation from the health system, health department, law enforcement, pharmacies, religious community, emergency medical services, education, corrections, courts, and social services. Everyone is very much aware of every aspect of this drug crisis and its impact on each discipline as a result of this task force. We are very fortunate to have Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland in western Maryland. Health care is the region’s largest industry; both the college and university support health care through their commitment to the many allied health programs. These programs greatly benefit the hospital, the region’s clinicians as well as other providers.
Although, we have our challenges in western Maryland, I wouldn’t trade my last 30 years living and working here for anything.
Andrea E. Chapdelaine '19, President, Hood College, on higher education:
All of the institutions of higher education in this region had to cease on-campus operations in March and none of us have resumed campus operations since, although I believe most are offering a “hyflex” model in the fall, with some courses in person, others online but most in some hybrid or bimodal model, with some elements online and others in person.
We have had to revisit every facet of our operations and determine how to serve our students while mitigating the risk of spread of the virus on our campuses. These are complex and ever-changing plans that have demanded an enormous amount of time and resources.
That said, speaking for Hood, we have not seen a decrease in enrollment, as one may have predicted, although we are seeing an increased need for financial assistance as our students and their families are facing economic hardship due to the pandemic.
In terms of financial impact, we anticipate as much as a 20% loss of revenue (from auxiliary services – housing, dining, campus rentals, etc.) and additional costs of approximately $1,000 per student to prepare the campus for fall reopening. This has necessitated furloughs and reductions in salaries and benefits. As non-profits, we were excluded from most of the relief programs (e.g., PPP) so the relief for us has been negligible (less than 10% of expected losses). And of course, as one of the major employers (if not the major employer for some other Western Maryland colleges and universities) in our communities, this has a ripple effect as we have generated less consumer purchasing and income taxes.
That said, we know a college degree is one of the best ways to avoid unemployment and given the market right now, I know higher education as an industry will survive, although there will certainly be bumps along the way.
James F. "Jim" Kercheval '15, Executive Director, Greater Hagerstown Committee, Inc., on the economy and local business community:
GHC became a member of our county’s business response team instituted as part of our emergency operations plan for COVID-19. The majority of my time has shifted to a relief and recovery effort for our business community and local economy. We are actively engaged in business outreach, promotion of resources available, and advocacy with local, state, and federal officials. The rural nature of our community has shielded us from significant infection rates, and we barely have utilized our capacity for treatment.
However, the shutdowns have taken a significant toll on our local economy which has a high percentage of retail and industries dependent on tourism. We anticipate a long road to recovery and are planning for a world that will likely look very different – identifying the “sugar” needed to turn our lemons into lemonade.
To put it mildly, 2020 hasn’t gone as we planned. In just a few short months, the pandemic has forced us all to reschedule, rearrange, and rethink almost every aspect of our lives and ways of doing business. However, with all the challenges this crisis has created, there have also been a few simple, yet pleasant surprises – including the gift of found time to explore new interests and projects.
For Leadership Maryland, our greatest challenge has been postponing our Class of 2020 until 2021. But, not having a class this year has also gifted us with time to really dig into our organization’s strategic plan and explore new ways to promote our driving strategies – two of which are “alumni engagement” and “thought leadership.” This week we are merging these two notions with the premiere of Engaging Leaders: A Leadership Maryland podcast, brought to you by BEACON at Salisbury University and BFG Financial Advisors.
Brought to fruition by lifetime members and past board chairs Eric Brotman ‘09 and Memo Diriker ‘12, this new podcast will highlight the incredibly talented members of our Leadership Maryland community as they converse with our hosts on their professional experiences and approaches to leadership in times of turmoil. Available online or on your preferred podcast streaming platform, a new episode of Engaging Leaders will release on the third Thursday of each month.
“My goal for this podcast is to reach an audience of decision-makers and general movers-and-shakers in Maryland and to highlight the diverse talents and backgrounds of our membership,” says series host Eric Brotman. “I hope listeners will come away with lessons shared by engaged leaders across the state which will be actionable, and as a result more connections will be made to enhance our communities, businesses, and non-profits.”
The first two episodes of Engaging Leaders are available now and feature candid conversations with lifetime members Freeman Hrabowski III ’93 and Jim Brady ’93.
“I can’t think of a better way to start a new podcast than by interviewing these two giants of the region,” says Eric. “Freeman Hrabowski is one of the most respected leaders in the country and has a unique perspective on both historical and current affairs. Jim Brady has experienced leadership challenges in turbulent times like few others and has worn many hats in the region – making an enormous difference in each organization he’s touched.”
Co-host Memo Diriker agrees. “These two giants have provided leadership in an incredible variety of fields. The breadth and depth of their thought leadership in Maryland makes them the ideal guests as we start our podcast journey.”
As our host, Eric is looking forward to lively and fun conversations that will be both informative and entertaining for listeners.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview some of the most influential and interesting people in Maryland, and I know that I’ll learn from each one of them,” he says. “I’m looking forward to challenging our guests to stretch out of their comfort zones much like members of the Leadership Maryland class do each year.”
You can listen to the first episodes of Engaging Leaders HERE. And check back on the third Thursday of each month for new episodes!
We asked a few of our members from Maryland's health care sector to share their biggest concerns as surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, or to reflect on what they've learned as they've led their organizations through this challenging time.
Jean C. Accius, Ph.D. '14 (LM), SVP, Global Thought Leadership, AARP:
We are bearing witness to the tragic impact of this pandemic on the health of older adults and simultaneously a deep public outcry across the nation over racial injustice. We now have a choice: accept the life-and-death consequences of the status quo or seize this moment to not just rebuild but rebuild our communities better so all are able to enjoy a long and healthy life. We must usher in a bold future that embraces equity and innovation. We must be bold and courageous and create a new path forward that affirms our interconnectivity. Maryland, we can and must lead the way.
Brian D. Pieninck '16, President & CEO, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield:
After months of isolation and mounting economic pressures, households and businesses across the country are anxious to restart and reclaim some sense of normalcy. But it’s important to understand this deadly pandemic is far from over. In fact, we’re still in the first wave. Without a vaccine or effective drug therapies, we must remain vigilant. Every leader making decisions about reopening and returning to work will need to consider the risks, taking great care to safeguard the health of employees, customers and communities. As we navigate these challenges, we have an opportunity to emerge stronger, but it will be critical that we confront the persistent shortcomings of our healthcare system, progressively moving toward a focus on value and outcome-based care that equitably addresses the social and healthcare needs of our communities.
Melanie M. Heuston, D.N.P., RN, NEA-BC '19, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, Meritus Medical Center:
As a healthcare leader, I always have two primary concerns; the front line care giver staff and the patients we serve. As a state, I feel that Maryland has been very proactive and thoughtful to the approach of COVID-19. I continue to be concerned about personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies being in short supply and the cost of these important resources. As we continue to move through the phase of recovery, it is paramount that patients continue to seek healthcare resources and to not ignore conditions out of fear. The strategy of recovery needs to be ongoing good hygiene practices, social distancing, screening for airborne illness and utilization of masks as a culture change. We are continuing to heal the wounds of this pandemic by acknowledging the loneliness and solidarity of health care workers while treating patients with COVID-19 and the families that are struggling with loss of a loved one or the inability to visit during hospitalization.
Joseph "Joe" DeMattos, Jr. '08, President and CEO, Health Facilities Association of Maryland:
You are a leader and your primary objective is to work with others to navigate change. Leadership is an activity of action rooted in listening, guided by vision, and fueled with collaboration. Effective leaders have vision, communicate effectively, build winning teams, and value diversity and inclusion.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, we are reminded that effective leaders adapt, innovate, and place high value on engagement.
Now more than ever, I am reminded of our shared time and experiences in Leadership Maryland, and that I am a leader not alone but part of a community of passionate and gifted leaders.
And I am also reminded of what I learned in my personal work with Jack Canfield: E + R = O. That is the Event + Response = Outcome. We don’t control the challenging events we face but we are not without power. Our response to these events, which are in our control, are half of the equation in the outcome we secure with our leadership.
On what would’ve been education day for the class of 2020, we asked a few of our members from Maryland's education sector to offer their best advice for educators and parents adjusting to virtual learning:
Dr. Michael J. Martirano '07, Superintendent, Howard County Public Schools:
Work Hard and be kind - This mindset has driven me during my time as an educator, administrator and Superintendent and exemplifies the way Americans are coming together during this pandemic.
To Teach a Child Well, You Must Know a Child Well - Every student has different backgrounds, perspectives, needs, and motivators. The key is to understand what those are for each student and leverage that knowledge to make a difference as an educator.
William "Rob" Hair '21, Superintendent, Maryland School for the Blind:
Establish a schedule. Make the day predictable and keep sleep routines in place. This is very important for kids and adults and helps to keep behaviors at a minimum in kids and adults.
Give kids choices throughout the day. Build in exercise, playtime and remain flexible.
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Ignore the baskets of unfolded clothes or if things are not as tidy as you like or if the kids have more screen time than you prefer under normal circumstances. There is no need to be perfect in housekeeping or parenting, at any time, but certainly not in this period of quarantine.
Take care of yourself. We’re all anxious right now. Sometimes we get so focused on taking care of our families that we ignore the impact that this crisis is having on us personally. Gardening, exercise, arts and crafts, jigsaw puzzles or going for long walks can help us to maintain a healthy outlook.
Dr. Patricia W. "Patty" Saelens '19, Superintendent, Caroline County Public Schools:
The Do's and Don’ts of At-Home Learning:
During these unprecedented times of home learning, families will inevitably be faced with many challenges. Remember, the role of the parent is to ‘support’ learning opportunities. Families should not feel pressured to ‘teach’ their child, but instead support access to opportunities. Below are some Do’s and Don’ts of home learning to assist in setting yourself up for a successful and productive experience.
Focus on the basics
Take movement breaks
Allow for mistakes
Know that most of the time, you’re doing the best you can (and forgive yourself the rest of the time)
Beat yourself up
Stay idle for long periods of time
Give up too early
Focus on the negative
Set unattainable expectation
Leadership Maryland Alumni Bring St. Mary’s County Students to National Harbor
Each year, Leadership Maryland dedicates its Southern Region Session to trends and issues impacting education across the state. Day Two of the session is traditionally hosted at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center (FCTC), which affords public high school students in St. Mary's County the opportunity to learn the information and skills used in one of twenty-four specific career areas.
“Our center has programs in nearly all areas—hospitality and tourism, nursing, automotive repair, dental assisting, engineering, and others—for students in their sophomore year or higher in St. Mary’s County,” says Bonnie Kelly, FCTC hospitality and tourism program instructor. “Leadership Maryland uses our conference center each year for their Education Day, and my students, along with the culinary students, manage the whole event from the set up and break down to the catering of lunch.”
Chris Borgal ’16, Leadership Maryland board member and assistant vice president of operations and management for the Peterson Companies, first visited FCTC as a part of Leadership Maryland’s class of 2016, and was very impressed by the professionalism of the hospitality students.
“I work for the company that’s been developing National Harbor since the beginning,” says Chris. “Because we have such a presence in the hospitality field with the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center and MGM National Harbor, I wanted to connect with Bonnie and offer any type of opportunities I could for her students.”
The connection they made that day rekindled a long-time professional relationship between FCTC and National Harbor that had recently dissipated due to staff turnover. Now Chris and his team host the students of the hospitality and tourism program each year and show them the ins and outs of every aspect of the business.
“I wanted this to be a hands-on and inclusive experience for the students,” explains Chris. “Each student has unique interests, so it was important to cover as much of the industry as possible.”
During their visit, Chris provides a grand overview of the development of National Harbor, including their vision for the future and plan to keep growing. The students also get to tour the property’s two major hotels, MGM National Harbor and the Gaylord National Resort. While at Gaylord National Resort, they are able to see all aspects of operations, including both the “front of house,” including seven outlets, nearly 2,000 guestrooms and more than 600,000 square feet of meeting and event space; and the “heart of the house,” including behind-the-scenes peeks at the kitchens, housekeeping areas, offices and more.
“The goal of this tour is to expose them to as much as possible so each student can get a feel for what role in the hospitality industry they want to play in their future,” continues Chris. “Plus, it’s an opportunity to expand their views and perceptions of Prince George’s County and see other parts of the state in a way that Leadership Maryland afforded me.”
Monroe Harrison ’18 is director of public affairs at Gaylord National Resort and had originally connected with Bonnie years ago. After visiting FCTC with his own Leadership Maryland class and seeing the passion with which the teachers spoke to their classes and how engaged the students were, he was happy to see the relationship between the school and National Harbor begin again.
“We have been working with Bonnie for more than five years, and her passion for educating young people and introducing them to the tourism industry is admirable,” says Monroe. “Gaylord National Resort always seeks the best talent and by providing tours to students we help educate them about the numerous career opportunities a property of our size has to offer. From traditional lodging positions to human resources, accounting and finance, event managers, sales and marketing, and more – we want them to see there is something for everyone to excel in.”
It is connections like this that make Leadership Maryland such a valuable resource for the community. According to Bonnie, the difference that National Harbor has made within her program is immeasurable.
“Some of my students have traveled in the past, but many may not have ever left St. Mary’s County,” says Bonnie. “We have some small hotels in the area where the students can shadow, but nothing like the expansive and diverse opportunities at National Harbor. This relationship with Chris and his team has been life-changing and really opened up new doors for my students and showed them where a career in hospitality can take them.”
“One of the biggest takeaways from my time in Leadership Maryland is the notion of how I can be significant within my community,” explains Chris. “This partnership was a very small way of having significance, particularly in a part of the state I’d never really see or touch otherwise. Without this program, I certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to offer any help at all, so I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
To learn more about National Harbor, please visit nationalharbor.com. To learn more about FCTC, please visit https://schools.smcps.org/tech/. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit leadershipmd.org.
Leadership Maryland alumni contribute significantly to influential community awareness program
One of the keystones of our mission at Leadership Maryland is to inform leaders on the vital issues impacting our state and empower them with the information and connections they need to become forces for meaningful change. So it’s no surprise that when a community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore launched a county-wide awareness campaign aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, many of the individuals behind its powerful impact were Leadership Maryland alumni.
The initiative is known as Talbot Goes Purple, and it was spearheaded by Lucie Hughes ’17, past president of the Tidewater Rotary Club in Easton, and Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble. The idea was born in 2017, when Sheriff Gamble presented to the Tidewater Rotary Club about opioid abuse and its devastating effects on families in Talbot County, throughout Maryland and across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths per year involving opioids increased six times over between 1999 and 2017 nationwide.
Sheriff Gamble stressed the importance of educating people, especially parents and children, about the dangers of opioids, and how the path to addiction most often begins with prescription medications. Inspired by his impassioned speech, the Tidewater Rotary Club felt compelled to help address the issue in their own community.
“When Joe came to speak to us, I had just been elected president and wanted our club to have a cause to focus on for the year. After hearing him speak, I approached our executive board and suggested we do something around addiction and the opioid epidemic and they agreed,” said Lucie. “I knew Joe personally, and I went to him and offered money from the Tidewater Rotary Club to buy a new drug dog for the county. And he said, ‘I don’t need another drug dog, what I need is an awareness and education campaign around substance abuse and the opioid epidemic.’ So we agreed to do that.”
“I needed people who were willing to do the hard work and help me pull this campaign off,” said Sheriff Gamble. “Lucie stepped up immediately, and her Rotary Club was all in, and it just started from there.”
Together Lucie, Sheriff Gamble and the Tidewater Rotary Club came up with a campaign based on THP Purple Project, a high-school substance-abuse awareness initiative founded by former NBA player Chris Herren. The mission of Talbot Goes Purple was simple: to engage the community in turning the entire county purple for the month of September and to raise awareness and inspire informed conversations about prescription pills and opioid addiction.
To get the initiative off the ground, Sheriff Gamble and Lucie began soliciting support from key business owners in the area, many of whom happened to be Lucie’s fellow Leadership Maryland members. One of the first organizations she approached was the local electric distribution company, Easton Utilities, led by CEO Hugh Grunden ’03 and CFO Steve Ochse ’18.
“Lucie came to us and asked how we could help elevate the visibility of this project to garner more awareness and start more conversations,” said Hugh. “We do a lot of Christmas decorating during the holiday season, so we knew we had a core competency to illuminate the downtown streets and businesses,” said Hugh. “So, we got to work, but instead of Christmas colors, we used purple.”
“Hugh and I happened to be at a meeting where Lucie spoke about the concept of Talbot Goes Purple, and we turned and looked at each other and realized we could help turn the town purple, literally,” said Steve. “The lightbulb went off, pun intended, that we could participate in a big way and with Hugh’s leadership, we pulled together the resources we needed to make it happen.”
David Fike ’16 (LM), then the publisher of Talbot County’s daily newspaper, The Star Democrat, was also quick to offer his support for the project.
“Once Lucie and Joe explained what they were trying to accomplish and the movement they were trying to create in our town, it was an easy ‘yes’ for me,” said David. “I have seen how opioid abuse has affected families in our community, either through people I’ve known or people I’ve read about. It’s devastating what it does to families – not only to the individual who is addicted, but the rest of the extended family as well. So I put my thinking cap on as to how we could assist the process and get the message out there even more.”
Talbot Goes Purple launched in September 2017. The month began with a special edition of The Star Democrat on newsstands featuring a purple masthead and dedicated entirely to news related to opioid abuse in the community, local initiatives to curb it, and educational information on addiction and recovery. The paper followed with a front-page story each day of the month that told the story of someone in the community who had overcome substance abuse or had experienced its negative effects. The paper also waived its online paywall for the month so more people could access the Talbot Goes Purple content.
In addition, a public lighting ceremony was held at the Talbot County Court House in Easton. Local dignitaries, community leaders and neighbors gathered as Easton Utilities flipped the switch on 14,000 purple lights and 75 purple spotlights illuminating the historic downtown district.
“We could not have done this without Hugh and Dave’s support – the visibility they gave us with the streetlights and the newspaper coverage was really our tipping point,” said Lucie. “We spoke to more than 100 clubs, businesses and organizations, and everywhere we went, there wasn’t anyone in the room who had not been touched by substance abuse. Everyone had a story and wanted to get on board. We have a large recovery community here in Easton and Talbot Goes Purple gave us a platform to talk about it and everyone embraced us.”
Talbot Goes Purple quickly gained momentum as more and more people joined the effort to turn the town purple. There were no set instructions for how local businesses and organizations should support the movement, they were simply given educational messaging and asked to share it in any way they could. Restaurants offered purple dessert specials, jewelry stores created purple window displays, and nail salons offered discounts on purple nail polish. Schools held “Purple Fridays” and a local electric supply company sold purple lightbulbs so neighbors could show their support with their home porch lights. Senator Addie Eckhardt ’01, representing the local district, even traded in her signature pink wardrobe and wore purple throughout the month.
Mike Hiner ’16, president of Willow Construction, was one of many local business leaders and Leadership Maryland alumni who joined the effort, changing his company’s exterior lights to purple and purchasing purple t-shirts for his workers to wear on job sites.
“We are in a business where there is always a threat of drug use, so we have especially taken on this cause for the sake of our own employees to make sure they’re safe and aware. We encourage them to follow Sheriff Gamble’s advice to only take opioids exactly as prescribed, dispose of them properly, and keep them away from their kids,” he said. “And we’re trying to keep that conversation going all year long in our safety meetings. We also recently invited Lucie and Sheriff Gamble to one of our jobsites to speak with all of our subcontractors.”
The first campaign was so successful, it returned in September 2018 with expanded messaging and reach. Neighboring counties Dorchester, Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, and even Sussex County in Delaware and Washington County in Western Maryland joined the movement and turned purple for the month. And Lucie and Sheriff Gamble are looking forward to even more people joining the movement in 2019.
“It has grown beyond our wildest belief,” said Sheriff Gamble. “And it’s not about me or Lucie; this is about communities rising up and doing something and fighting back against this epidemic, and the best way to do that is through education. And statewide, prescription opioid deaths dropped in 2018, and locally, our drop boxes are overflowing with prescription pills that people are turning over, so we know people are hearing the message and beginning to get it.”
“One father reached out to Joe to tell him he was driving his teenage son home from school, and his son said he didn’t understand all this ‘purple’ stuff and how it was supposed to make any difference at all. So they started talking about it, and an hour and a half later, they were still talking about it. We have given people the platform to be able to have this conversation,” said Lucie.
Hugh believes the success of Talbot Goes Purple speaks to the spirit of the Talbot County community. Easton Utilities has donated more than 500 manhours to date to lighting a portion of the county’s streets in purple.
“Talbot County is a community where volunteerism has always run strong,” he said. “I was born and raised here, and it has always been a community that will address a problem head on, and I think we really did that. We were thrilled to be invited to participate in such an important project, and we brought something to the table that I don’t think others could have offered. It was a huge team effort.”
Sheriff Gamble is not surprised that many of the key players in this movement are Leadership Maryland alumni.
“The people who I know who have gone through Leadership Maryland are the movers and shakers in our community. Lucie, Hugh, David - they get stuff done and are community-minded people. They don’t just talk about being a part of the community, they are a part of the community,” he said.
“Hugh and I both went through Leadership Maryland, and a big focus is working together with partners in the community, and that’s what happened with this project,” said Steve.
“Leadership Maryland makes you aware of issues around the state, and opioids were a main topic when we talked about inner city issues, judicial issues, just social issues in general,” said Mike. “Everyone can recognize that the opioid issue is at the root of many of our problems, and as Leadership Maryland graduates, we are compelled to be problem-solvers and help spread this message that people need to be aware of how dangerous this substance is.”
Lucie agrees that her Leadership Maryland experience contributed to Talbot Goes Purple’s success.
“Leadership Maryland exposes you to different ways of doing things and different ways to approach things. That helped me look at Talbot Goes Purple from different angles and frame my questioning in a good way,” she said. “It was amazing to me when I looked back and saw how many people from Leadership Maryland supported us and were involved.”
To support Talbot Goes Purple, Lucie encourages everyone to follow @TalbotGoesPurple on Facebook, share the educational information and begin their own conversations about opioids. Donations are also accepted at talbotgoespurple.org, and purple t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and lights are available for those who would like to turn their own communities purple.
To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit leadershipmd.org.
Member Story: Conversation Turned Collaboration: '05 Classmates Join Forces to Create a Green Workspace
When the lease ran out on her company’s building, Eileen Straughan ’05, knew it was time to move. As CEO of Straughan Environmental, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in helping public and private companies achieve environmental compliance and improve sustainability, Eileen was ready to leave her old inefficient building behind and ensure that her own company was adhering to the same high standards she held for her clients.
“I felt as an environmental firm, we really wanted to walk the talk, and have a space that is more reflective of what we value,” she said. “In all our projects, we give our clients the ability to work within infrastructure which is necessary for a growing society, but in a way that preserves and protects the natural environment on which we all depend.”
After purchasing a new building less than two miles from Straughan Environmental’s old location, Eileen knew she would need help from an experienced architect to help convert the one-story, brick-on-block space into a model of sustainable design. That’s when she turned to Charles Alexander ‘05, president of Alexander Design Studio and Eileen’s classmate from Leadership Maryland’s Class of 2005.
“While we were going through Leadership Maryland together, Eileen and I had struck up conversations just because we were in related fields and complimentary professions,” said Charles. “When she reached out to me about needing help to create the environment in which her staff would be working, it was an easy project for our team to be interested in. We want projects that are different and that are about something, and to Eileen, this was about getting at the heart of how they operate and achieving a higher level of sustainability to align with their corporate philosophy.”
Alexander Design Studio was experienced in green design, having previously worked on Overlook at Clipper Mill, a modern duplex housing development that had achieved LEED Gold status.
“With Straughan Environmental, it was new for us to be looking at a renovation project within an existing building, as opposed to a fresh build,” said Charles. “We sat down with Eileen and discussed what made sense and what didn’t, what was doable and what wasn’t, and set objectives for the organization and the efficiency of the space.”
Charles’ team incorporated many innovative elements into the design to make the building more sustainable and green. The existing black roof was replaced with a white membrane roof that is reflective and doesn’t trap heat in the summer. A ventilation system and high-efficiency mechanical units ensure a healthy comfortable environment. Nine solar tubes were installed in the roof, in conjunction with pale wall colors and an adjustable lighting system, to maximize the natural lighting of the space. The open floorplan features all Energy Star® -rated appliances and workstations made with refurbished and recycled materials. The layout was designed to maximize views to the outside, which was landscaped with native plants that don’t require much fertilizer or watering.
“We placed a high value on indoor air quality,” said Eileen. “We were very careful in every choice that we made, and our architects helped us achieve that.”
Straughan Environmental moved into its completed new headquarters in July 2010. Eileen and Charles had initially targeted LEED Silver certification, but ultimately achieved LEED Gold – one of the industry’s highest standards for sustainable design. And Straughan’s employees have continued to implement new green practices.
“Our employees have enjoyed getting into new sustainable activities. Since moving in, we’ve started a composting program and compost all our plant-based kitchen waste here on site. We have a beehive and make our own honey now, too,” said Eileen. “We measure our energy and water consumption, and our waste generation and recycling and set green key performance indicators (KPIs) annually so that we continuously improve our sustainability performance as a company.”
“It’s amazing to look back at this project, because sustainable products and technologies have become much more mainstream now and much of what was innovative then has become, thankfully, more prevalent now,” said Charles. “This project has stood the test of time.”
Collaborating on this project was a fortunate result of Eileen and Charles having met and discussed their common interests while participating in Leadership Maryland, and both say they are grateful for their experiences in the program.
“I never looked at Leadership Maryland as a marketing tool, so much as an opportunity to look holistically at the State where I do business and understand the connections between the business world and government world,” said Charles. “From that standpoint, it was incredibly valuable and I enjoyed meeting people from such a different cross-section of professions and experiences.”
“The first thing I would say about my Leadership Maryland experience is that it gave me so much insight into different areas of the state and their economies and what’s important both economically and socially in each region,” said Eileen. “Plus, I know I can pick up the phone and call anyone in my Leadership Maryland class and we will always have the common experience of being in the class of ’05.”
To learn more about Straughan Environmental, please visit straughanenvironmental.com. To learn more about Charles Alexander design studio, please visit brokenboxes.com. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit LeadershipMD.org.
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