Stronger Together: Public and private agencies solve community issues across the Mid-Shore
By Amelia Blades Steward and Manning Lee // Portraits by Stephen Walker
Public and private agencies solve community issues through creative solutions, matching private resources with public needs in communities across the Mid-Shore
Community Responder: Beth Anne Langrell
In March, Beth Anne Langrell, CEO of For All Seasons, Behavioral Health and Rape Crisis Center, and her staff decided that no matter what would present itself, people would always have a place to go for counseling. They put their heads together and devised their COVID-19 strategy. Seventy-two hours later For All Seasons had metamorphosed from an in-person counseling center into an agency seeing clients both in person and through teletherapy. That would be the first of several changes that the community responders of the mental health front line in Easton would identify to meet the needs of our community.
For All Seasons has 24-hour and English and Spanish hotlines for those who are facing a mental health or sexual assault crisis. During the shut-down and in the months following, many people realized that they weren’t doing ‘okay.’ Out of necessity, For All Seasons implemented additional crisis appointments, to help people with the anxieties and stresses they were experiencing during this period of time.
Since the start of the pandemic, For All Seasons has taken on the needs of over 350 new patients. “The pandemic has impacted everyone’s mental health. We recognize that everyone is experiencing COVID differently. Our COVID appointments have become critical to supporting the mental health of our community. People who may or may not have sought mental health treatment before are reaching out because they need a different level of support during these uncertain times,” Langrell said.
“I’m a huge proponent of believing in having grace in everything that we do. Especially now, we need to be kind to ourselves, as well as to others. We are all experiencing this differently and we have to give ourselves permission to recognize that we may need something different than we needed six months ago. It’s ok for each of us to say to one another, ‘Hey, I’m not doing okay today.’ For All Seasons will be there in that moment,” she added.
For All Seasons
MISSION: Providing therapy, advocacy, psychiatry, and education to Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne, and Talbot counties regardless of ability to pay.
ADDRESS: (Main Office) 300 Talbot Street, Easton, MD 21601
Community Responder: Rabbi Peter Hyman
As a community responder in the spiritual front lines, Rabbi Peter Hyman led the charge in helping his congregation and others with the spiritual nature of our place in the COVID -19 crisis and through other recent well-known national events. Most notable was his participation in his synagogue a unifying gathering of all faiths during the Charleston shooting several years ago.
When asked how difficult it was not to gather and be unified in the synagogue, he noted, “I was able to get to one protest in town,” he added. He felt encouraged by every element of our community. “I saw Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Islamic Society as well as members of the Synagogue come to the table with shared wisdom and values. It is energizing and powerful to see a full palette of the community participating with both the young and old coming together for the George Floyd protest,” he expressed.
In preparation for one of the first teachings during the shutdown, Hyman searched the “Torah” for wisdom on Egyptian plagues as well as other plagues in scripture. “I shared with my congregation the term, ‘Pikuach Nefesh,’ which is explained by several Talmudic Rabbis who speak of this principle, ‘If you’ve been exposed and want to go to Synagogue for worship, you may not because you may not endanger yourself or others even if the notion of the motivation is noble.’ You may not do it because the end result is you’re going to cause damage, hurt or possibly cause death,” reported Rabbi Hyman.
“I just looked at the Jewish responsibility. This shutdown is and was not a religious principle, but a health issue. From a Jewish perspective, its everybody’s responsibility to be protective of one another and themselves. That wisdom comes from the “Torah” and any scripture. If you’re dead, then you cannot participate in any worship,” he explained. Rabbi Hyman believes it is in our best interest to listen and adhere to the guidelines given to us by those charged with our care.
Temple B’nai Israel
MISSION: Temple B’nai Israel is the center of a warm, inclusive and progressive Jewish community. Its membership reflects and welcomes into the Temple family the rich diversity in contemporary America.Temple B’nai Israel celebrates the beauty of Jewish holidays, rituals, culture and programming as a united community.
ADDRESS: 7199 Tristan Drive Easton, MD 21601
Community Responder: Marilyn Neal
As a community responder during the COVID -19 crisis, Marilyn Neal, Executive Director of Neighborhood Service Center (NSC), and her staff stormed headfirst into the COVID-19 shutdown. They tasked themselves with working through the community’s massive need for food distribution to combat the county’s 10% poverty rate. “Our number one goal was survival. We wanted the people to know that we’re here to take care of them. If I’m running, then my staff is running too and my staff rocked throughout the whole shutdown,” exclaimed Neal.
During COVID-19, NSC served 777 households during the month of April, an increase from roughly 125 households monthly before the COVID-19 shutdown. They were able to reach those goals collaboratively with help from Jan Willis of the Talbot County Local Management Board who helped supply the volunteers and support needed to make such an operation work like a well-oiled machine.
In addition to food distribution, NSC staff worked tirelessly, challenged to solidify the needs of their clients not covered by government grants. With the unique nature of this shutdown, families who had been perfectly stable in February 2020, only one month later in March 2020, found themselves unable to make ends meet, but yet remained unqualified for government funding.
Neal and her team endlessly sought help from the greater Easton community to secure monetary donations with fewer guidelines and restrictions than government grants. NSC succeeded in helping those families who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks. Under Neal’s leadership, the agency secured funding so clients and their families would have homes to shelter in during the shelter in place. “Through these private donations, we not only were able to keep clients in their homes, but also able to take care of some clients’ sewer, water, electricity, and internet services to help take the stress off of the parents,” explained Neal. “If the parents are less stressed, then they are better parents,” she said. Better parents make stronger families.
Neighborhood Service Center
MISSION: Improving the quality of life both socially and economically for low-income residents in Talbot County by equipping them with the tools and potential for becoming self-sufficient.
ADDRESS: 126 Port Street Easton, MD 21601
Community Responder: Beth Brewster
At the onset of the COVID shutdown, Beth Brewster, Caroline County Public School’s Food Service Supervisor and her amazing team of 32 affectionately called “Lunch Ladies” wowed the Caroline County residents with nothing short of heroic and monumental food distribution.
Beginning on March 19th, Brewster and her team got to work keeping in mind that 65% of the student population participates in the free and reduced lunch program, and 69% participate in their universal breakfast program. Quickly, the “Lunch Ladies” devised a plan to reach and feed the one in four food insecure children in the third poorest county in Maryland.
Before the pandemic, they fed 270 to 300 students daily. At the height of the operation, they fed 1100 to 1300 kids totaling 3,600-3,800 meals a day. They distributed the grab and go meals in their drive-thru service, through door-to-door delivery, and bus delivery to the more poverty-stricken areas in the county.
In addition to feeding the children, they responded to the 10% of the county’s food insecure elderly population. With the senior centers closed, seniors were unable to leave their homes safely or to cook for themselves, Brewster’s team delivered grab-and-go meals to the seniors, as well as the children.
Brewster and her team receive much of the credit for stepping in and organizing, but the work was made perfect with the collaborative efforts of Caroline Helping Hands who runs the backpack program, by Joanna Reedy and Giving Grace Food Pantry from Trinity United Methodist Church and by Aaron’s Place run by Cheryl Beluah.
To view a video compiled by Rob Simmons about the program:
Caroline County Public Schools' Food Distribution
MISSION: Chesapeake Culinary Center is not only a non-profit organization that provides job-training for the culinary field, it is also a full-service catering business
PHONE: (410) 479-2144
Community Responder: Dave Harper
The Herculean task of transitioning over 200 classes and 2,000 students to remote instruction to finish the spring semester was only the beginning of what the college accomplished in response to the COVID-19 shutdown. Dave Harper and his colleagues at Chesapeake College are community responders on the front lines of local education and workforce training, implementing strategies to get our community back to work.
Chesapeake College partners with local businesses, educational institutions, governments, and non-profits to support regional economic growth and recovery efforts. One of the hardest-hit segments of our workforce is the dislocated or “gig” worker. These are people like dog walkers, live music performers or anyone who may couple together their jobs with their talents, but who may not be incorporated as a business owner. These workers typically don’t qualify for unemployment and other programs.
Dave Harper, Vice President for Workforce and Academic Programs at the college, described, “We work closely with the Workforce Investment Board, which oversees local American Job Centers. Dan McDermott and his team recently received a Dislocated Workers Grant, which supports dislocated workers This grant will help provide courses such as Microsoft Office, Public Speaking, Business 101, and Accounting so that these workers will be able to build a resume and get back to work.”
This fund pays for the instruction and also even a modest stipend for individuals. It gives the dislocated workers basic skill exploration so they not only can get back to work but additionally can qualify for better quality jobs. The Dislocated Workers Grant will be available for the next four years.
MISSION: Supporting workforce development by providing the courses and training needed to build a skilled labor force.
ADDRESS: PO Box 8, Wye Mills, MD 21679
Community Responder: Valerie Albee
Valerie Albee is a community responder to those recovering from addiction. She and her husband, Rick, lost their daughter Mariah from an accidental overdose. In her grief, Albee formed a support group for parents who lost their children to substance use. “We all loved our children; they were good kids who often suffered from mental health issues and self-medicated,” explained Albee.
Out of that support group came Mariah’s Mission, a fund that allows Albee to honor her daughter’s memory by giving back to those in recovery. Mariah’s Mission seeks to empower those struggling with addiction by providing the resources needed to eliminate barriers to recovery and by encouraging changes that lead to a healthy and independent life.
The Mission’s current initiative, “Wheels for Change,” was birthed out of Albee’s desire to provide bicycles to residents of Talbot County recovery houses. Many of these residents arrive with limited resources. They are getting their lives together, but any real or perceived trouble often creates roadblocks. Transportation to and from work and meetings eliminates this potential situation.
Albee approached Ryan Hickey of Easton Cycle and Sport to join forces to provide bikes to the recovery houses. Hickey lost his brother Joe to a biking accident in Easton and sees his participation as a way to honor his brother’s memory. Hickey and his staff provide safety checks needed to repair and condition the gently used bicycles for each new owner.
Each participant may keep and maintain the donated bicycle while in the recovery house. To date, Wheels for Change has donated 21 bikes and maintains a waiting list for more gently used bikes.
To donate a gently used bicycle, or one needing minor repairs, contact Valerie by email: MariahsMission2014@gmail.com or call Mid-Shore Community Foundation at 410-820-8175.
MISSION: Empowering those struggling with addiction by providing the resources needed to eliminate the barriers to recovery and by encouraging changes that lead to a healthy and independent life.
ADDRESS: 102 East Dover Street, Easton, MD 21601