Talbot County Announces 2020-2021 Community Impact Award Winners
Futurist Says Outlook Bright for Rural Areas
Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, certified futurist and owner of Wild Innovation Consulting, told business leaders gathered Friday, April 30, for the Department of Economic Development and Tourism’s Virtual Business Appreciation Summit that places like Talbot County have superpowers.
“Talbot County is helping lead the evolution of rural places,” she said. “You have strong leaders who want businesses, people, communities, and natural resources to prosper now and into the future. This is one of the few places on the planet that can bring these important areas together to create a model for sustainable and inclusive innovation.”
The Nebraska native whose first job was cutting meat in a packing plant also challenged those attending the webinar to plan for and pursue the future they want. “My advice is to create a purposeful vision for Talbot County, launch a plan to make it happen, and measure the impacts.”
Reimers-Hild set the stage for the announcement of the Talbot County Community Impact Awards honoring businesses, nonprofit organizations, projects, and individuals who made a significant impact on Talbot County in 2019 and 2020.
The list of 2020 Community Impact Award winners includes the BAAM Athletic Center, Town Center St. Michaels, Waterfowl Festival, and The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Marla and Harold Baines won the individual award category.
Economic Development Commission Chairman Reza Jafari also presented the 2021 Community Impact Award to the Emergency Operations Center and the Talbot County Health Department for their joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gold sponsors for the event included APG Media and Shore United Bank. Provident State Bank and the Talbot Chamber of Commerce were silver sponsors, and Easton Economic Development Corporation joined the Town of Oxford as contributing sponsors.
“The 2020 award winners were actually chosen early last year,” says Director Cassandra Vanhooser, “But these organizations actually doubled down during the pandemic and made an ever greater impact on our community. Their stories will inspire you.”
Building African American Minds – Blueprint for Success
The opening of the Building African American Minds Athletic Center at 31 Jowite Street in December 2019 was a dream come true for BAAM founders Dina and Derick Daly.
The forward-thinking couple founded the nonprofit organization in 2005 to help educate, build character, and lay a foundation for success with African American boys. Their goal was to address socioeconomic barriers that inhibit a child’s ability to learn effectively and to provide academic programs in a safe, caring, and structured environment.
“We provide after-school services and tutoring for African American males – all males, really – in the Easton elementary school system,” Derick explains. “We do everything we can to get the child to a level academically and socially where they can succeed in school and in life.”
Building a facility has simply allowed the organization to be more flexible and self-sufficient. At the athletic center, BAAM now can offer programming when the school building is closed and expand their services to include others in the community. It also gives kids a safe place to spend time after school and during the summer months.
Even more important, the services and gym memberships are free to all Talbot County residents.
“We don’t want money to be a barrier for anyone in the county to get services,” Derick explains. “This building brings the community together. We have been able to make it a part of the community so that people feel they are welcome.”
The athletic center is just the first of several infrastructure projects the organization has planned. The next project will be an academic center that will allow BAAM to bring its after-school programming in-house and expand its educational programs to include other young students and even adults.
With the help of volunteers and community partners, BAAM has nurtured and developed hundreds of children and helped them grow into happy, productive young adults. Many of the early participants have attended college, and some program alumni have even returned home to lend a hand.
“The future is bright for our kids because they have hope,” Derick says. “They have a feeling that they can achieve anything they want, and that is what this building represents. As they saw the building come together, they became believers.”
Derick recently stepped down as executive director and will be turning his attention to other projects in the organization’s portfolio. Dina, who recently retired from her position as head of the Caroline County Department of Social Services, has accepted the role and will lead the organization into the future. “It’s her turn now,” Derick says with a smile.
Town Center St. Michaels – Center of Commerce
When the ACME grocery chain announced in October 2017 that it would close its St. Michaels store on North Talbot Street, the townspeople grew concerned. Not only were they losing a grocery store, but the building also commands a prominent position on Talbot Street. It could easily become an eyesore once the building was vacated.
But less than two years later, the former grocery store had been completely reimagined, redeveloped, and reopened by local developer Bob Hockaday and his wife, Julie Moriarty Hockaday. Today, St. Michaels Town Center is a vibrant, bustling center of commerce and a testament to the good that can come with change.
“We love St. Michaels,” Bob says. “We wanted to do something really good for the town as well as take an important piece of real estate, upgrade it, and bring it into the 21st century.”
Though he grew up on a farm in the Baltimore area, Bob attended Washington College in Chestertown. He and Julie made St. Michaels their primary residence in 2010 and subsequently opened Guilford & Company Fine Jewelry, a store that specializes in antique and estate jewelry. Both Bob and Julie have offices in the lovingly restored two-story yellow house that sits at the corner of Talbot and Cherry streets, another one of the couple’s redevelopment projects.
“We take existing structures and redevelop them, ” Bob says. “When ACME announced that they were going to close, we wanted to renovate it and restore it and bring it back to its vibrant self.”
It was important to the Hockadays that the side of the building facing Talbot Street be attractive, but the development team for this project paid attention to all four sides of the building. “We were very sensitive to the fact that we have the library, the police station, and Blue Crab Coffee to the rear of the building so we wanted to also beautify that,” Bob explains.
Chesapeake Bay Outfitters. Charisma Clothing Boutique, Reclaimed Furniture, Provident State Bank, and Sprout St. Michaels are now residents of Town Center St. Michaels. Bob also has plans to add a boutique hotel above the existing businesses.
Waterfowl Festival – A Golden Impact
For more than 50 years, the Waterfowl Festival has been the party of the season in Easton and Talbot County. This year it’s being celebrated by the Talbot County Economic Development Commission for its impact on the community.
“The Waterfowl Festival is a celebration of all things waterfowl, all things Eastern Shore, all things Easton and Talbot County,” says Kevin Greaney, president of the Festival’s Board of Directors. “We usually have about 15,000 people who come for the day or for the whole weekend.”
Named for the birds that winter on or near the inlets and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay region, the Festival is always held the second full weekend in November. It features 15 venues with more than 250 artists and vendors, including sculptors, painters, carvers, and photographers from around the world. Other favorite activities include retriever demonstrations, diving dog competitions, and waterfowl calling contests.
The first festival was held in 1971 and arose out of the local community’s interest in local traditions and the protection of habitat for winter waterfowl. These days, it feels a lot like coming home, even to those who don’t live here full time.
“We are now seeing our fourth generation of visitors and they are being carried or pushed in strollers by their parents and grandparents,” says Margaret Enloe, executive director of Waterfowl Chesapeake, the conservation partner of the festival. “We love that people come back for this Eastern Shore homecoming year after year after year.”
What’s more, the festival is largely run by volunteers and pays dividends to the community. Each year, up to 1,000 volunteers invest their time to make Waterfowl Festival a success, and more than 75 community partners and sponsors offer vital support to the event as well. An economic impact study conducted in 2019 by Rockport Analytics found that shopping, dining, and lodging by festival visitors generated an economic impact of $2.6 million.
The year 2020 would have been the 50th year for Easton’s Waterfowl Festival. While in person festivities were cancelled, the Festival marched into its second 50 years by launching a series of online events, including a virtual art gallery and an online decoy auction.
While the hiatus did little to dampen the enthusiasm for future events, it did slow contributions to waterfowl conservation, a core mission of the nonprofit organization.
“Over the years, we have invested nearly $4 million in habitat conservation, more than $1.2 million in education, and more than $26,000 in wildlife research initiatives, not to mention our scholarships” Enloe says. “COVID made last year a little tight and we weren’t able to do as much as we would have liked, but we are looking toward the future. The 2021 Waterfowl Festival isn’t the end of a 50-year run. It’s the kick off for our next 50 years.”
The 50th Waterfowl Festival is scheduled for November 12-14.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Helping Those in Need
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Saints Peter and Paul Conference, is part of an international Catholic organization founded in Paris in 1833. Its mission was – and continues to be – serving the poor.
“It’s simple, really,” says Alex Handy, president of the organization. “We serve those in need.”
The Easton facility is best known for its food pantry. Shelf stable items such as cereal, peanut butter, tuna, pasta, canned vegetables, and fruit are purchased from the Maryland Food Bank. Perishable items, including milk, bread, meat, produce, and frozen vegetables close to their sell-by dates are collected daily from local stores.
Though many people in the community know about the food pantry, “it’s really so much more than that,” Handy explains.
The organization offers financial assistance to needy families, including funding for those facing eviction and emergency shelter for the homeless. The Friendly Neighbor Program pairs seniors and homebound individuals with volunteers who check in regularly.
At the Thrift Store on Canvasback Drive, donations of household items such as clothing, housewares, and furniture are recycled and turned into a profit center for the organization. Families needing clothing, furniture, or other items are provided vouchers to receive these items free. Sales to the public help fund food purchases and generate money for financial assistance programs.
During 2020, the value of food provided to those in need was $990,829, up from 2019 by more than 35%. The organization also provided $132,776 in financial assistance to more than 1,600 people in Talbot County. To top it off, the organization is run entirely by volunteers. It takes more than 300 generous souls to keep all of the programs running smoothly.
“It’s a big number, and it takes a lot of people,” says Handy, himself a volunteer. “But the reason we are able to do all of this is that we are here in Talbot County. It’s a volunteer community.”
Handy says he believes the volunteer corps is so dedicated because they realize the impact they are making on the lives of others.
“They can see the people who need it because they come to the food pantry, they come in for financial assistance,” he says. “So it’s not like sending a check to some foreign agency. It’s actually seeing the situations that people are dealing with. That’s a pretty compelling reason to be involved here.”
Marla and Harold Baines – Hometown Heroes
Former professional baseball player Harold Baines and his wife Marla, a successful St. Michaels realtor, were chosen as the individual winners of the 2020 Community Impact Award.
In 2019, the baseball world – along with much of Talbot County – was atwitter with stories of the lefty from St. Michaels who was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His was a fairy tale for Little Leaguers everywhere.
Harold was the No. 1 pick in the 1977 amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox right out of St. Michaels High School. Today, he is applauded by peers as one of the best designated hitters ever to play the game, with stats that are impressive by any standards.
In a career that spanned 22 years, the right fielder and designated hitter logged 2,866 hits, 1,628 RBI, 384 home runs, and a .289 batting average. Though he played in the 1990 World Series, Baines ultimately helped win the pennant in 2005 as a coach for the White Sox.
While these accomplishments are more than impressive, this power couple was not selected for a Community Impact Award on the basis of Harold’s accomplishments on the baseball field, but on their unwavering commitment to St. Michaels and Talbot County.
The high school sweethearts married soon after Marla graduated from college with her degree in early childhood and special education. From the earliest days of their marriage, they lived in St. Michaels, using their second home in Chicago during baseball season.
“I love being here in a small town,” Harold says. “Everybody knows everybody. I always wanted to come back.”
Marla agrees. “Our families are from here,” she explains. “I just like a rural county. We have great friends here, and we just didn’t want to leave.”
Over the years, Harold and Marla have supported numerous projects that benefit the area, including the Bay Hundred Community Pool, the Perkins YMCA, and the Harold Baines Scholarship Fund, which assists deserving young people. In 2018, they started the St. Michaels Alumni Program to benefit students at their alma mater.
“We’re just doing our part,” Harold says. “When I was a kid, this community took care of me. This is my opportunity to give back to the community. That’s a big part of why we’re still living here.”
COVID-19: A Community Responds
How will a community respond when the unexpected happens? That’s a question emergency managers think about every day, and it’s a question Talbot County Manager Clay Stamp can now answer with great clarity and confidence.
In January 2020, the CDC confirmed the first case of a novel coronavirus, brought to the United States by an international traveler returning home from China. By March, the virus was spreading out of control, leading the World Health Organization to declare COVID-19 a pandemic.
Just like that, the world had changed.
On March 15, Talbot County activated its Emergency Operations Center team, a group of community partners and stakeholders tasked with responding to community threats. When the EOC is activated, those partners report to the Operations Center on Port Street in Easton, a centralized location where professionals from all disciplines come together to collectively respond to a crisis.
When the EOC was activated, Stamp was serving as the director of Talbot County’s Department of Emergency Services.
“As an emergency manager, one of the primary tasks is to bring the community together during sunny days to assess risk and identify all of those things that could adversely affect your community,” Stamp explains. “You build relationships, you evaluate the risks, and you plan for what you will do when something happens.”
A Community Safety Net
While Stamp admits that no one at any level had really planned for a pandemic of this magnitude, he believes that Talbot County’s system has worked. “All we did is activate the network that we had put together some time ago to mobilize, come together, and address needs,” Stamp explains.
In the case of the pandemic, the Emergency Operations Center mobilized to offer support to the Talbot County Health Department, the local agency charged with addressing public health issues.
“Our responsibility in an emergency situation is to wrap ourselves around an organizational solution when we have a crisis in our community, in this case an emerging infectious disease,” Stamp explains. “We are very fortunate to have had two accomplished physicians leading the Talbot County Health Department, the lead agency in this crisis.”
Dr. Fredia Wadley, a pediatrician and former Commissioner of Heath for the state of Tennessee, was the Talbot County Health Officer until her retirement in December 2020. In January, Dr. Maria Maguire took the helm, continuing the work of the department and leading efforts to get vaccines deployed into the community.
“We are deeply indebted as a community to Dr. Wadley’s exceptional leadership during the first half of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Maguire stresses. “I am certain that, because of her thoughtful and thorough management of this public health emergency during her tenure, Talbot County benefitted from having lower infection rates and hospitalizations than most of the state.”
Flattening the Curve
As the pandemic began, health officials monitored the situation and shared information with stakeholders and the community at large.
The Health Department established a contact tracing unit and called on Talbot County residents to follow health protocols including masks, frequent handwashing, and social distancing. As the virus spread, the department established testing sites and has led the way in deploying the vaccine.
“A common saying is that all public health is local, and responding to public health emergencies is a central element of our mission as a local health department,” Dr. Maguire explains. “I am in awe of the tireless dedication and work ethic displayed by the staff and volunteers of our health department. For the past 13-plus months, our county public health workers have really gone above and beyond the call of duty.”
400 Days and Counting
The Emergency Operations Center has been activated for more than 400 days, much longer than expected, and the community has come together in the most extraordinary way. Talbot County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was presented a Community Impact Award at the annual Business Appreciation Summit, held virtually on Friday, April 30.
“The response to COVID-19 has truly been a community-wide effort,” Dr. Maguire says. “I am impressed with how our community partners have worked together, whether to ensure wide access to testing, operating vaccination clinics throughout the county, or keeping the public informed. The entire county should really be very proud of the efforts of so many who have responded so passionately to this public health crisis.”
Stamp couldn’t agree more. “As a long-serving emergency manager who’s been to Hurricane Andrew, who’s been to Hurricane Katrina, who was at the World Trade Center disaster, I have never seen a community come together like Talbot County to address this pandemic,” he says.
“It’s rewarding to me as an emergency manager. It’s rewarding to me as a member of this community to be a part of our response to this crisis. It’s incredibly moving, and I hope the people of Talbot County feel that too.”