From the seemingly endless supply of appetizers to the crab cake and chicken entrées to slices of cake for dessert, there was plenty to feast on at the 22nd Annual Holland Awards Dinner.
There was also an air of elegance in the grand ballroom at Turf Valley Conference Center in Ellicott City where the event was held – a multitude of round tables adorned with linen tablecloths and napkins, lighted centerpieces, stunning chandeliers, and an army of well-dressed professional servers to wait on attendees.
Guests came to support CAC in its quest to help low-income Howard County residents obtain food, energy, housing, and weatherization assistance and an early childhood education (Head Start) that will not leave children behind when they enter public schools. Funds raised from the dinner are used for CAC programs, which are designed to fulfill the organization’s mission to diminish poverty, enable self-sufficiency, and advocate for low-income families and individuals.
The dinner was named in honor of the late Rev. John Holland who served on CAC’s board of directors for 17 years and lived a life of tireless service. CAC used the occasion to educate people about the non-profit organization and to thank those who have contributed to its mission.
CAC Board Chairperson Patrick Curtis kicked off the event by acknowledging the support audience members give to the organization. “We are all unique individuals. We come from different backgrounds, but tonight we stand united in our belief that it is our responsibility to help others in need … You do more than just care – you act.”
The Humanitarian Award for demonstrating commitment to serving the most vulnerable in the community was presented to Senator Guy Guzzone and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. They were honored for providing unwavering support in acquiring government funds for the purchase of the Howard County Food Bank. Prior to November 2016, the food bank had been located in a rented facility for 10 years. The new food bank, located at 9385 Gerwig Lane in Columbia, is three times as large as the previous facility and has more warehouse space. Since the new location opened, the food bank has seen a 22 percent increase in new family visits.
Before accepting his award Guzzone told the crowd that some people are born into impoverished households, and that no one is immune from encountering a misfortune such as losing a job. “And that’s why I love this organization. That’s why this organization is so critically important,” the senator avowed. He added that one in six children across the country do not have enough food to eat and that one in five Marylanders have addictions or mental health issues, and they need a helping hand. “Everybody matters,” he emphasized. “Every single citizen.”
The request for a permanent food bank was on Kittleman’s desk when he became county executive in 2014. He championed and provided funds for it at the county level, which was necessary before the state would support it. “This is a special award for me. I care so much for CAC,” he told the audience. He also felt a great fondness for Rev. Holland who built his bedroom when he was a youth. “He was not only a great person, he was a good carpenter,” stated the county executive, before evoking a difficult, poignant memory. His father, Senator Robert Kittleman, was selected for the Humanitarian Award in 2004, but died the day before he was to receive it. The family came to the award ceremony despite its recent loss.
Both elected officials were given engraved trophies at the dinner.
With her husband and two children at her side, Bernice Cynthia Tanor gave stirring testimony about how CAC’s services transformed her family’s lives. Four years ago, she had medical issues that prevented her from working, and her husband was able to work only part-time at a job that paid $10 per hour. The couple came to CAC hoping to get their older child enrolled in Head Start.
The couple’s child was enrolled, but CAC didn’t stop there. CAC’s multiple services enabled the family to dig out of debt, and realize their goals of increasing their income and purchasing a home. “It sounded too good to be true,” Tanor told the attentive audience, referring to a CAC program that matched the family’s $4,000 savings $2 for every $1, enabling them to amass $12,000 to purchase a home in Columbia. “This is what helped push our family out of poverty and become self-sufficient,” said Tanor.
The family’s future continues to look rosy. Tanor, who obtained her GED in 2014, is on schedule to complete her registered nursing degree at Howard Community College this December, her husband works at a full-time job that pays much better than his previous one, and both children have graduated from the Head Start program and are thriving in the Howard County Public School System.
“My husband and I now have a new goal – to save for our children’s college education and to remain debt free on all our credit cards,” she declared. “Our lives look very, very different than a few years ago when we walked into Community Action Council’s office. We were so desperate.…. With CAC’s support our lives are changed for the better and forever,” declared Tanor. The excitement for the Tanors’ accomplishments was palpable when the audience rose to its feet and clapped enthusiastically.
The event’s emcee, Dick Story, stated that CAC’s two-generation approach, which focuses on the needs of both children and their parents in order to end multi-generational poverty, benefits families and the community as a whole because people who are doing well become motivated employees, active consumers and engaged citizens.
President and Chief Executive Officer of Howard Bank Mary Ann Scully delivered the keynote address, drawing on a thought experiment developed by famous investor Warren Buffett.
In this thought process, Buffet imagined an unborn child designing the world he or she would soon enter, not knowing what “lottery ticket” he or she would draw. For example, the unborn child could not foresee his or her gender, race, birth country, or level of wealth.
“We are, relatively-speaking, people who drew a good ticket,” the speaker told the audience.
But living in Howard County, the fourth wealthiest county in the United States is a double-edged sword. The county’s high cost of living makes it easier for people “to fall off the rails,” stated the banker, citing United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, But Employed Individual (ALICE) as a way to measure individuals and families who work but cannot afford the basic necessities of life. In Maryland, a family falls into this ALICE category if it makes about $60,000 or less a year, but in affluent Howard County that figure rises to $76,000 a year, according to the speaker. This translates into 22 percent of Howard County’s population that works, but cannot make ends meet.
“The greatest gift CAC gives to this community is the fact that it’s focused on self-sufficiency… It gives people a choice,” stated the banker. “Certain people who draw a bad ticket in the lottery of life don’t have that choice – they don’t have the opportunity, they don’t have the access to do something better.”
“We understand there are compatriots in this county who didn’t draw as good a lottery ticket as we did…. We all care about the community or we wouldn’t be here this evening,” continued Scully. “What action can we take? I would suggest all of us can do something financially. We can because we drew one of the better lottery tickets.” Scully pledged to increase Howard Bank’s contribution to CAC tenfold compared to its previous giving level.
Others who spoke included Chief Administrative Judge of Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Marcella Holland (Rev. Holland’s daughter), and CAC Board Vice Chairperson Sean Harbaugh.
Holland urged the audience to continue supporting CAC. “There’s still a poverty level that’s unacceptable in this country,” she asserted. “Keep pressing on. The community needs you.”
Harbaugh thanked the ballroom full of people for supporting the organization, including volunteers who donated 55,500 hours to CAC during the last five years.
Also during the dinner, Rev. Paige Getty, Senior Minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, and Rev. Dr. Robert Turner, Senior Pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Columbia and a CAC Board member, presented CAC a check for $2,500. It was raised at an interfaith service in September that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first worship service held in Columbia.
The event’s presenting sponsors were BGE, Giant, Howard 7 Rotary Clubs, Ken and Linda Solow, the Mikulis Family and Pinnacle Advisory Group. Dozens of other organizations and individuals sponsored the event at the gold, premier, champion and supporter levels.
Attendees lavished praise on the evening’s program.
Ann Neale said she loved the keynote speaker’s metaphor about the lottery. “Many of us are set up from the beginning to succeed,” she acknowledged.
“(The event) gives you hope,” noted Ron Carlson “It reenergizes you for wanting to make a difference.”
Former Howard County Council Member Courtney Watson said, “It was inspiring to hear about the Tanor family and their journey, and how CAC helped get them on their feet over a period of four years. It reinforces how important it is for us to give every day to make the lives of people better.”