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/.
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.
As president of her student government, 17-year old Kelly Robertson-Slagle was eager for an opportunity to grow and develop her leadership skills. When she was introduced to Maryland Leadership Workshops (MLW) in 1991, she knew that it was just the opportunity she was looking for.
“I had that leadership bug,” says Kelly, now the Director of Economic Development for Calvert County. “When I went through MLW, I was surrounded by other high school students that were just as excited and energized about leadership as I was. That was one of the really great aspects of the program for me.”
For Kelly, being surrounded by her peers—not only those participating in the program but also those leading it—was what made the experience something she’d continue to draw from throughout her academic and professional career.
“I believe that being peer led is what makes MLW successful,” says Kelly. “You’re surrounded by people like you, people of the same generation. Being led by staff that isn’t much older than you makes a huge difference. They talk about their experiences and what’s worked for them, and it’s incredibly relatable. That’s what drew me back to apply to be staff the following year—my personal experience. I saw how it worked for me and I thought, ‘wow, what a great example I could set for the next group of participants.’ It felt like a great opportunity to pay it forward.”
As a participant in the program, Kelly learned lessons that she continues to employ today in her work with the Calvert County government.
“As a staff member, I was given the opportunity to lead a class about conflict resolution, which had taught me the most impactful lessons when I went through it the previous year. Even as an instructor, I learned so much about myself, about leadership, and about my community. At the end, I knew I wasn’t finished learning.”
Kelly went on attend the College of Southern Maryland and the University of Maryland. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, while still holding onto the passion for leadership she forged when she was young.
Eager to find new ways to hone her leadership skills, Kelly joined Leadership Southern Maryland’s Class of 2010 to learn more about what goes on within her region and, in 2018, applied for Leadership Maryland.
“I was grateful to have gone through Leadership Southern Maryland before pursuing the statewide program,” said Kelly. “It armed me with a deep understanding of my region—our healthcare, education, workforce development, economic development, housing—which made me a more effective and involved member of Leadership Maryland.”
While her previous leadership program experience prepared Kelly for the structure of the programming and deep, sometimes difficult conversations, Leadership Maryland still managed to surprise her.
“I didn’t expect it to be, but it’s been a stress reliever,” she said. “Being able to shut off my day-to-day, leave my desk, and truly immerse myself in whatever the topic is and wherever we are has been a blessing. The events themselves have been eye-opening beyond my expectations. Our trip to western Maryland, where we toured the detention center, was one of the most impactful days. Seeing how different real life inside of a jail is from what we see on television, learning the struggle of life after incarceration, and how high the rate of recidivism truly is has put a completely new perspective on that situation and that challenge within the criminal justice system in Maryland. I never would have seen that side of life without this program.”
Kelly started as an eager high school junior destined to be a leader and worked her way to a position in government where she is able to create real change within her community. Having gone through both MLW and Leadership Maryland, she sees true value in the partnership between the programs.
“Merging MLW with Leadership Maryland is just raising the bar,” said Kelly. “It’s so awesome and extremely valuable that now middle school and high school students know that if they want to truly stay connected with leadership, there’s a pathway that will lead them through a lifelong experience of constantly learning and developing their leadership capabilities. These programs are so unique and influential and having merged them together will only make the pathway to leadership that much clearer.”
To learn more about Maryland Leadership Workshops, visit MLW.org. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, visit leadershipmd.org.
Member Story: Driven By Passion and Purpose: How a Leadership Maryland Alum is Changing the Perceptions of Maryland’s Eastern Shore
When Dion Banks ’12 returned to Cambridge, Maryland in 2001, he began to see his hometown in a new light. He had moved away years earlier to pursue his education and career, discouraged by the lack of opportunities Cambridge offered. When he returned home to be near his father who was ill, he found the town still struggling with the same social and economic issues he remembered from his adolescence. But Dion’s perspective had changed.
“When I moved back home, all the reasons that had caused me to leave the Eastern Shore of Maryland were all the same reasons why I now felt like I really needed to dive in and help the community,” he said.
Dion, who works as the Director of Government Affairs & Business Development for Cambridge International, joined a City of Cambridge task force led by Natalie Chabot ’05, and began working closely with the City and the Dorchester County Department of Economic Development. In a few years’ time, he became campaign manager for Victoria Jackson-Stanley, who was running for her second term as Mayor of Cambridge.
“In 2012, I was volunteering on the economic steering committee for the City of Cambridge, plus I was campaigning for the mayor, which was opening my eyes to all the needs of our community that the City wasn’t meeting,” says Dion. “I saw how many people in our community were disenfranchised for different socioeconomic reasons. Professionally, I was seeing all the same issues, but from a different perspective. People weren’t employable in Cambridge. I began to see all these issues as personal challenges, and I love challenges. And that’s when Leadership Maryland happened.”
Nominated by Natalie Chabot ‘05, Dion joined Leadership Maryland as part of the Class of 2012. And when the class first gathered for its orientation retreat at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, it didn’t take long for Dion to realize the program was going to be a life-changing experience.
“On our first day, [program facilitator] Eliot Pfanstiehl sat all 52 of us down, and then directed us to a board at the front of the room where he had listed all the regions of Maryland. He then asked us to write down our perceptions of each region. And when our conversation turned to the Eastern Shore, I just wanted to die! After hearing all the negative things my classmates, who had come from all across the state, thought about my hometown, I just wanted to shout ‘we’re not that bad! This is a great place to live!’ I knew then that my personal mission in Leadership Maryland was to show my class how great Cambridge, and Dorchester County are. That was the biggest eye-opening moment for me.”
Inspired by his Leadership Maryland experience, Dion and friend Kisha Petticolas began researching Cambridge’s history and reputation. It was no secret that Cambridge had been through a dark time in it past. During the summer of 1967, when racial tensions were causing protests and riots in neighborhoods across the country, the City of Cambridge became the center of national attention on July 24 when a protest resulted in fires that destroyed two city blocks and 20 buildings, including the local Pine Street Elementary School. In their research, Dion and Kisha came to learn just how much the Cambridge community was still feeling the effects of these events and their aftermath.
“In 1968, the Kerner Commission established investigations to learn why these riots were taking place across the country, and they published their findings in a series of reports,” says Dion. “They discovered that people in these areas were living in despair, and identified all of the socioeconomic issues that were contributing to the problem. These reports continued to come out every five to 10 years, and I when I found the most recent Kerner Report on Cambridge in 2012, it described our city as ‘Maryland’s Mississippi.’ That’s when Kisha and I realized that we needed to get in front of this. We are products of this great city and this great county, and we need to find a way to tell our own story about Cambridge.”
In 2012, Dion and Kisha hosted a town hall meeting at the Bethel AME Church in Cambridge – the original meeting place of the local civil rights movement. The meeting drew a diverse crowd of 150 residents.
“When the conversation got heated, we realized that there hadn’t been a public conversation about race in Cambridge since 1967. We then felt like this was our cross to bear. Our mission became to pay homage to the people who fought the fight back then, and create a picture that says ‘we’ve healed from this, we’re growing from this, and we’re better than what you think of us.’ It was time to change the perceptions of the City of Cambridge,” says Dion.
To begin this work, Dion and Kisha founded the Eastern Shore Network for Change (ESNC) – a non-profit organization that is, as stated in its mission, “raising awareness of issues affecting Dorchester County and working creatively with the community to inform, educate and foster change that leads to social and economic empowerment.” Since 2012, ESNC has introduced many initiatives to help inspire and prepare the local workforce – including resume writing, job placement, motivational speaking at local schools and universities, hosting business writing courses, grant writing, business counseling, and even The Expungement Project, which twice a month helps people expunge misdemeanors from their criminal records.
“At ESNC, we are driven by passion and purpose. Right now, we’re mentoring about five other non-profit organizations in the area who are doing amazing things in our community,” says Dion. “We have started a grassroots movement within the City of Cambridge to identify kids in the community who we can help, and we’re grooming them to become our future leaders, and hopefully future Cambridge City Council members.”
In 2017, ESNC is taking on its biggest challenge to date as it honors the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. On February 11, ESNC will be facilitating a Black History Month program in Cambridge for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. The special guest will be Gloria Richardson, a local activist who was the face of the civil rights movement in Cambridge.
And this summer, ENSC will commemorate the anniversary of the infamous riots with four days of special programming. “50 Years After the Fire: A Commemoration of Our History,” will take place July 21-24 in Cambridge.
“We felt like, in order for us to really put down a marker that says ‘we’re moving forward,’ we had to host a city-wide celebration that would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement and be inclusive in all areas of our community. So we’re planning four days of very diverse events that cross the spectrum of everyone in Cambridge socially and economically,’ says Dion.
Plans for the celebration are still rapidly growing, but will include a gala, walking tours, lectures from local authors, the unveiling of a traveling museum exhibit dedicated to Cambridge’s history, a 5K race and one-mile family walk, jazz festival, gospel music concert, and a city-wide church service to be held at the local high school.
“To ensure we’re successful, we are getting local experts involved to take charge of these events and run with their passions,” says Dion. “We just received grant money for a local radio station to collect oral histories from our community members, and Dorchester County has awarded us money to create a 90-minute documentary to tell Cambridge’s story. And to ensure that we’re keeping the faith-based spirit that made the civil rights movement successful, we are bringing our entire religious community together for a prayer service Sunday morning.”
Dion hopes that this event will not only celebrate how far Cambridge has come, but empower his community to see how much is still possible.
“My personal goal is to make sure that everybody knows that despite who you are, or where you come from, you have the right to a shot at achieving social and economic prosperity, providing that you do what every other productive citizen does,” he says. “Cambridge is a hotspot for development and gentrification that is taking place in neighborhoods across the country, and I want our community to take a shot at getting ourselves together and making ourselves more employable so that we are ready to take this next step.”
Dion credits Leadership Maryland with giving him the inspiration and tools he needed to create these changes in his community.
“Leadership Maryland changed my perspective and it changed my thought process when I look at the issues affecting our state and our communities. Now when I come across a problem, or someone struggling with something, instead of offering sorrow or pity, I ask myself how I can get involved and help fix it. I’ve become this problem solver! I keep my Leadership Maryland class binder on my desk at home, and I’ve been using it since 2012 to help me navigate through our issues in Dorchester County and to bring resources here to Cambridge and it’s just been amazing.”
Looking ahead, Dion is seeking support from anyone who can contribute financial donations or other resources to ESNC and the Cambridge community.
“We are looking for anyone who can come here and empower us through discussion, kind acts, and any kind of resources,” he says. “Connect with me. Come down here and spend a day with me in Cambridge and let me show you our obstacles, and the good stuff we have as well. We are doing this to tell a new story about the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the City of Cambridge. It’s not about identifying what happened in the past, but about creating a city and county that we can take pride in. And hopefully, that pride becomes infectious, which leads to investment, ownership, and a better, productive and socially-viable area for us all to live in.”
To learn more about the Eastern Shore Network for Change and the “50 Years After the Fire” celebration, please visit ESNCCambridgeMD.com. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit LeadershipMD.org.
Member Story: Promoting Solar Panel Safety: How a fortunate meeting through Leadership Maryland led to improved training for Maryland’s firefighters
Each year, Leadership Maryland escorts a class of up to 52 business, government, education and non-profit leaders on an eight-month educational journey across the state. A regular stop on the curriculum is the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI), the state’s fire and emergency services training agency, headquartered at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.
Tim Delehanty, facilities supervisor, gives each Leadership Maryland class a tour of MFRI’s facility and explains how the organization is responsible for providing training to firefighters and emergency medical service providers all across the state.
“Basically, I like to explain what MFRI does, and why our training is important,” says Tim. “As the people who train fire emergency first responders, our work impacts everyone in our state.”
In 2014, Tim was in the middle of his presentation to Leadership Maryland when a member of the class raised his hand to ask a question:
“What do you tell firefighters about solar roof panels?”
The question came from Brian Lazarchick, who happens to be the safety director at Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), a customer-owned electricity provider to more than 160,000 services across Southern Maryland. Like Tim, Brian also provides safety training to the local public, including volunteer firefighters.
“Volunteer firefighters are often the ones responding to house fires, and they also might be the first people on the scene for downed power lines, so the SMECO safety team always tries to get to them to make sure they’re safe,” says Brian.
But over the previous year, as Brian and his team visited local volunteer fire departments throughout Southern Maryland, they often found themselves asked the same question: what should firefighters do when they respond to a house fire and encounter solar panels on the home’s roof?
“I had already started researching solar panels and working with my network to try to warn volunteer firefighters of the safety hazards they pose,” said Brian. “The fact is, there is no way to de-energize a solar panel. If a solar panel is exposed to any bit of light, it is going to generate electricity, and firefighters have been electrocuted and killed when they’ve come into contact with a solar panel while responding to an emergency.”
When Brian posed the same question to Tim, he acknowledged that while solar panels are becoming a pressing issue as more local homes install the technology, MFRI lacked the information they needed to properly teach firefighters about the hazards of solar roof panels and how to safely work around them.
“When firefighters respond to a house fire, they often climb onto the home’s roof to cut a hole to vent the fire. If there are solar panels on the roof, that’s going to affect how a firefighter works. Also, firefighters are always concerned about how much weight is placed on a roof, and the risk of that roof collapsing, and we weren’t sure how much weight solar panels typically add to a roof,” said Tim. “When Brian mentioned that his team had been working on similar training, I said that we needed to talk because maybe together we could put together a viable program.”
A few weeks later, Tim – who also happens to be a resident of southern Maryland – visited Brian and his team at SMECO. He toured SMECO’s new 5.5 megawatt solar farm and spent several hours learning about the typical structural features of solar panels and how solar energy systems work. Tim then took all that he had learned back to MFRI’s Institute Development Section, who put together an educational program that is now offered to firefighters across the state.
“Essentially, we learned that as long as there is any kind of light getting to solar panels, they are collecting energy. As firefighters, the only way we can really safeguard ourselves is to stay away from them while we’re operating, and make sure we don’t do anything that adversely impacts the system,” Brian says. “We’re teaching firefighters to be ever mindful of the weight solar panels pose on the roof structure, and if there is any way possible, to leave solar systems alone and keep ourselves removed from them.”
“Together, we’ve created awareness training on the dangers of rooftop solar cells,” says Brian. “Tim is currently providing this training to fire departments throughout Maryland, and we are in the process of making the information available on the SMECO public website.”
Thanks to a fortunate meeting facilitated by Leadership Maryland, firefighters across the state are now receiving improved training to better ensure their safety as they respond to emergencies.
To learn more about MRFI, please visit: www.mfri.org.
To learn more about SMECO, please visit: www.smeco.coop
To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit: www.leadershipmd.org.
Member Story: Class of 2014 Grads Collaborate to Improve Agri-Business Education for Frederick County High School Students
It all began with a conversation on a bus. Dave Esworthy, market president of First United Bank and Trust in Frederick, Md., and Charlotte Davis, executive director of the Rural Maryland Council, were classmates in Leadership Maryland’s Class of 2014, and were seated next to each other on the ride to one of their sessions. Along the way, Dave and Charlotte discovered they had a common interest in growing job opportunities in Maryland’s rural communities, as Dave shared an idea he’d had recently to improve the career training available for high school students in his home county.
“In addition to my work for the bank, I also serve on a committee at Frederick Community College that offers advice on the curriculum for the school’s business program. I told Charlotte that I wished it was possible for FCC’s business program to partner with Frederick County Public Schools’ Career & Technology Center to offer management training or entrepreneurship classes to the high school students in the trade programs,” said Dave. “I thought that if the high school kids could learn not only the technical skills, but the ins and outs of starting and managing a business, it would add a whole new dimension to their education. I had discussed the idea with the business program manager at FCC and he loved the idea, but said they would need money to make it happen. And that’s when Charlotte told me about the Rural Maryland Council’s grant program.”
Charlotte explained that the Rural Maryland Council focuses on the needs of Maryland’s rural communities, including local economic development. Each year, the Council receives money from the state’s operating budget that allows it to offer a grant program to help rural-serving non-profit organizations fund projects within the categories of agriculture, economic development, workforce development, energy development, community development, health care and world broadband.
“Dave was passionate about promoting entrepreneurship in his area, and that’s something that we are also interested in. We believe that when an entrepreneur is mentored and grown in a rural community, they are more likely to stay in that community and contribute to the local economy,” Charlotte said. “Dave and I discussed his idea to not just teach our students the science and production side of agriculture, but to combine the business side and teach them to form a business and marketing plan. Informally, we talked about his idea for the program and what components would help make it a strong application for our grant, and Dave took that idea and ran with it!”
Back home, Dave contacted the principal at the Career and Technology Center about the opportunity, and they formed a committee with representatives from Frederick County Public Schools and FCC to brainstorm how to put a program together that might be appealing for the grant. Since Charlotte did not serve on the grant review board, she was able to offer advice on how to make the application as strong as it could be.
After two months of work, the final grant application proposed a program that would enable high school agriculture students at the Career & Technology Center to take management and entrepreneurship classes for college credit at FCC. In addition, the students would also take regular field trips to local businesses to meet the owners and learn first-hand about growing and running a successful business. The application asked for $25,000 in funding, and in August 2015, Dave received word from the Rural Maryland Council that they would be awarded the full amount.
“The Rural Maryland Council loved the idea, and said it was one of the best grant applications they’ve ever received,” said Dave. “This program will allow our high school students to not only learn the technical skill, but how to run a business and put together a business plan, as well as gain general management skills and exposure to local businesses they can use as models. The funding will be used for building new infrastructure to offer even more opportunities, including a new apiary at the Career & Technology Center that will allow students to learn beekeeping, because there is such a shortage of bees and beekeepers.”
“We see a lot of applications that have a germ of an idea, but there are a lot of technical aspects missing,” said Charlotte. “What was really innovative about this application was that it created a streamlined path for the students from high school to community college and then to a four-year school or the workforce. It helps kids to be a little more career minded earlier on, and to know their long-term plans from the beginning.”
Now that the grant has been awarded, Dave’s committee will work to put together the new program’s curriculum and begin construction. The program should be ready for students by the second semester of the 2016 school year.
Dave and Charlotte’s collaboration on this program is a great example of how Leadership Maryland inspires real, actionable change by bringing together leaders from all sectors, industries and geographic regions of Maryland to learn about and engage on the vital issues affecting the state.
“It really hit me after this grant opportunity that this is what Leadership Maryland talks about. They want to bring us together to make things happen. I get it now,” said Charlotte. “I can really demonstrate the value of what we can do when you put us together.”
“We would never have gotten the money to make this program happen if it weren’t for Leadership Maryland and that bus ride!” said Dave.
To learn more about Leadership Maryland, visit leadershipmd.org.
Member Story: Opportunity Through Connection: Leadership Maryland Inspires Shore Bank’s Expansion to New Territory
When Tom Mears and Rich Hunt met as Leadership Maryland classmates in 2013, they discovered they had a lot in common. Both had more than 20 years of experience in Maryland’s banking industry. Tom was president and CEO of Shore Bank on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; Rich had served in executive roles at several banks in the Greater Baltimore area.
Not only did they have similar professional backgrounds, but as they completed their Leadership Maryland sessions, Tom and Rich also found themselves to be like-minded on a wide variety of matters as they discussed the state’s most critical issues. One conversation in particular would significantly impact the direction of both men’s careers.
“Following our Leadership Maryland session at Deep Creek Lake, Tom and I had dinner that evening, and our conversation carried over from earlier in the day,” said Rich. “We just started talking about the issue at hand and how we would solve it and that lead us into what was going on in the banking world, because that’s our common denominator. We started talking about what worked and what didn’t work in our experiences with our previous banks. As we got to know one another, I remember saying to myself, ‘Boy, I’d like to work with Tom one day.’”
Little did Rich know that his chance to work with Tom would soon present itself. As it turns out, Tom had been looking to grow Shore Bank into the Baltimore area, but hadn’t found the right opportunity to make the expansion a reality. But, that dinner conversation with Rich gave Tom an idea.
“Rich and I had dinner one night in Western Maryland, and I’d just come from a board meeting where we had talked about our strategy for moving Shore Bank into Baltimore, and my boss had asked if I had any good connections,” said Tom. “The more Rich and I talked, I realized that not only was Rich a great lender, but he had an entire team of commercial bankers who might give us the experience and presence we needed to be successful in the area.”
A little less than a year later, in July 2014, that idea came to fruition as Rich and his team of lenders officially became the Greater Baltimore Division of Shore Bank. Now a team of seven, the group targets small- and middle-market companies in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. And one year later, the move has been beneficial to everyone involved.
“I often brag that Rich has the best team in the field across the company at the moment in terms of just being a cohesive group, and their experience really differentiates them from other competitors in the market,” says Tom. “Although we’ve only known each other for a couple of years, I feel like I’ve known Rich for 35 years because we’re so similar in how we think about our industry and the way we go about doing business. If I had not met Rich, I don’t know that I would have been able to find the team that we have now. It’s been a tremendous benefit for us because we clearly have the right folks in the right seats in that particular location. It’s been a really great fit for us.”
Rich says the move to Shore Bank has been rejuvenating and inspiring for both him and his team.
“Our team members are out there every day calling on prospects and customers, and they’re doing so with a smile, and with an enthusiasm that I haven’t seen since 2008,” he says. “It’s neat to see that camaraderie, and our customers can see it. I think that enthusiasm comes from the culture that Tom and executive management have created. It’s just been wonderful.”
Both Tom and Rich give Leadership Maryland credit for their recent professional success, and continue to be active members in the organization. Beyond the fortuitous connection they made with each other through the program, both men say they also gained a priceless education about the numerous factors that impact people within each of the state’s diverse regions.
“We’ve all done a ton of different programs in our careers, but to me, Leadership Maryland is the one that has been the most impactful,” says Tom. “I left the program thinking that any freshman delegates or senators should be required to go through this course, because it gives you a broad perspective of the issues across the state. I think many times we live in our own bubbles in our own communities, and we don’t have a full appreciation for the issues in other communities. This helped educate me. If I pick up any Maryland newspaper paper now, I read it differently, because I understand what the key issues are and how they affect that part of the state.”
“Leadership Maryland is probably the number one best thing I have done professionally in my career,” says Rich. “I’m a life-long Maryland resident, I’ve been in the business community for 28 years, and I thought I understood how the state worked. I thought I had a good grasp on all parts of the state and how they all interacted from an economic, social and political perspective, but I was completely off-base. And the connections that you make from your classmates and other folks that you meet along the way as you learn about these counties are invaluable. Leadership Maryland has been very rewarding for me, personally and professionally.”
To learn more about Shore Bank, please visit ShoreBank.com. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit LeadershipMD.org
Janice Liggins ’10, applied to Leadership Maryland after two different people recommended the program to her. When she was accepted, she looked forward to all of the learning and networking opportunities being part of the class would offer. But in Leadership Maryland, Janice also found a spiritual calling she wasn’t expecting.
“During our opening orientation, to help us get to know each other, facilitator Eliot Pfanstiehl asked everyone in the class to share something with the group that nobody knows about you,” she said. “I remember that someone said ‘I want to climb Kilimanjaro.’ But when they got to me, I said, ‘I love to be led by the Holy Spirit.’ I didn’t have a clue I was going to say that until I said it! But I knew then that God had a purpose for me, and I believe He had me there on assignment.”
When she came to Leadership Maryland, Janice was a consultant from Prince George’s County who worked with businesses looking to get into the federal space. But away from the office, she had begun to take more of an interest in her local community.
“As early as 2007/2008, I began to take a look around me, particularly at the young men in my community, and I just thought ‘something’s wrong here.’ The more I looked, I knew it was a big problem, but I had no idea what the problem was,” she says.
But that summer, when the Class of 2010 took Leadership Maryland’s annual visit to the maximum security prison in Cumberland, Md., Janice discovered just what that large problem was.
“We were divided into small groups, and we were each given an intimate tour of the prison, led by an officer. I even stepped inside one of the cells and asked the guard to close the door,” she says. “When I heard that ‘clink clink’ of the lock, it changed my life.”
The tour of the prison was a profound experience for the entire class, but it wasn’t until a few months later when the group reconvened for a different session that they would discover just how profound. When asked to pose a question for the class to discuss, Janice asked “How did the prison experience impact you?” The passionate discussion that followed left everyone in the class so emotional that it inspired Janice to reach out to her classmates a few days later.
“That session was on a Friday. That Sunday night, I sent an email to my class that said ‘Whenever a discussion takes place that evokes an emotion in nearly every person in the room, we witness the genesis of an assignment – a Clarion Call to action. This is the case with our class, and we need to do something,’” she said. “And by Monday morning, my email box blew up with people responding ‘I accept the call!’ And that’s how The Clarion Call got its name.”
The Clarion Call is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by Janice that works with local families to help prevent young people from becoming part of the prison system. The organization specializes in outreach, awareness, and care coordination to bridge the gap between families and the services of other local non-profit organizations. The Clarion Call is also in the process of implementing reading, character development, and entrepreneurship programs.
“The United States has more people incarcerated per one hundred thousand than anywhere else in the world,” says Janice. “Through our outreach, we work to make sure our children and adolescents and young adults don’t get caught up in the traps, the hooks that pull kids into the prison system. Whether we are connecting families with tutoring sessions, mental health help, a mentor, or a useful STEM program, we are here for anyone who wants to do better for their children.”
Through The Clarion Call, Janice has helped reach hundreds of people throughout Prince George’s County. She is now a frequent speaker at local churches and other community centers. The Clarion Call also has its own regular television program on Prince George’s County’s cable station that allows Janice to draw more attention to the issues affecting her community, as well as celebrate young people and organizations who are doing great things. Janice’s Leadership Maryland classmates have supported her efforts by making introductions and contributing both ideas and financial donations.
“I tell people that Leadership Maryland brings together leaders from around the state and provides an excellent opportunity to be exposed to the issues, challenges, opportunities and resources of our state,” she says. “If you see an issue or challenge that you want to address, there is a network of people in this organization that could rally behind you. I really believe the Lord was using the Leadership Maryland experience for me to see what I’m supposed to do.”
To learn more about The Clarion Call, please visit TheClarionCall.info. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit LeadershipMD.org.
Providing thought leadership and insights from our organization, board, and members.