ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Government and Department of Community Resources and Services (DCRS) Director Jacqueline Scott honored the outstanding achievements of graduates of the County’s “Getting Ahead” program and recognized five local non-profit organizations for their support on Wednesday. The evening’s emcee was DurShawn Robinson, Financial Counseling Educator with MakingChange. Photos of the event can be found here.  

Howard County is a community with a strong economy and high levels of affluence. Unfortunately, this can sometimes obscure the urgent needs of our neighbors who are struggling to get by. The Getting Ahead awards honor county residents who have successfully overcome these challenges to move toward attaining economic self-sufficiency and are now helping others do the same

Calvin Ball
Howard County Executive

Getting Ahead Awards

Offered by DCRS’ Office of the Local Children’s Board, the “Getting Ahead” program helps individuals in poverty build resources for a more prosperous life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Since its inception in 2013, the program has graduated more than 400 county residents. 

“Each of our Getting Ahead Award recipients is a shining example of how hard work and a commitment to getting ahead can lead to a better future for all,” said DCRS Director Jackie Scott. “It is fitting that we also recognize the contributions of our community partners, whose support of the Getting Ahead program proves that as a community, we are stronger together.” 

Presented by Program Coordinator Marchelle LeBlanc, the 2022 Getting Ahead award recipients included:

Bright Future Award: Christopher Flores – Christopher is currently finishing his sophomore year at Hammond High School. When he joined R-Rules — the youth companion workshop of Getting Ahead — he appeared shy and introverted. However, Chris soon became of the most expressive people in the class, and his spirit captivated the entire group. He didn’t let barriers stop him from getting ahead. When his family was experiencing hardship, he reached out for assistance and facilitators were able to connect his family to Howard County’s broad network of resources. In his spare time, Christopher enjoys playing tennis and is planning a career in cybersecurity. 

Bright Future Award: Arthur Mathenges – Arthur is finishing his freshman year at Long Reach High School. Like many students entering unfamiliar territory, he was nervous, but he pushed past the insecurities and put his best foot forward every day. Arthur is always ready to jump in and help others and has always rallied his peers to do their best, providing clarification for questions about any given project. Despite a tendency to shyness, Arthur stepped up to the plate to serve as the Getting Ahead graduation emcee. Arthur loves all things basketball, spending time with his friends and is considering a career in real estate when he graduates. 

Impact Award: Zori Reed – Zori left the corporate world to work as a caregiver to her two sons full-time. A compassionate and multi-talented individual, her innovation and bi-lingual skills have provided Getting Ahead the opportunity to offer Spanish-speaking groups. Last year, Zori led four Spanish groups, with 20 participants graduating from the program. 

Making It Happen Award: Susana Navarro – A graduate of Getting Ahead’s Spanish-speaking cohort, Susana has utilized the knowledge she gained from the program to good use, speaking to Getting Ahead groups, training as a Facilitator and volunteering with community projects. Susana has also become a referral resource for the community by providing free translation services to those who need assistance. 

Rising Star Award: Sharee Campbell – A graduate of the Getting Ahead 2019 class, Sharee has exceed her goals. She accepted an employment offer from Howard County Government as a Census Outreach Coordinator and has served as a frontline responder, securing hotel rooms for homeless and other dislocated COVID-19 patients. She also worked as the Multi-Service Coordinator and the Lead R-Rules Facilitator for the Getting Ahead companion youth program. Her outstanding work earned her recognition in 2021 as the recipient of the Howard County Contingent Employee of the Year award. Sharee recently accepted a position with Maryland 211 as its Community Impact Coordinator. 

Rising Star Award: Najmah Milner – A single mother, Najmah relocated from New Jersey to Howard County in 2019 with her then 10-year-old daughter. A recent graduate of the Howard County Department of Social Services’ Getting Ahead Group, Najmah educated herself about the many resources available in the county and recently started a podcast with a focus on mental health. 

Rising Star Award: Bernard Reed – After facing numerous challenges throughout his life, Bernard came to Getting Ahead looking for a new beginning. Despite multiple hardships, Bernard’s strong faith helped him find purpose and never lost hope that his life would get better. He now mentors other individuals who have experienced some of the same difficulties as he, sharing his story about resiliency with joy. Bernard is training to become a Getting Ahead Facilitator and a Peer Support Coordinator. 

Staying Ahead Award: Venita Willis – An Army veteran with 18 years of service, Venita enrolled in the first Howard County 50+ Center Getting Ahead cohort. She is committed to serving her community through advocacy and community projects, and after completing the Getting Ahead facilitator training, has co-led three groups since November 2021. Venita shares her dedication to service by supporting her fellow Getting Ahead graduates and building bridges between veterans and the greater Howard County community. 

Community Partner Recognition Awards

For the first time this year, the Getting Ahead program also presented Recognition Awards to five longtime community partners whose intervention and outreach efforts support program participants at every step of their journey to self-sufficiency. 

Presented by Kori Jones, Chairperson of the Getting Ahead Advisory Board, the 2022 recipients are:

Committed to the Journey, LLC – Committed to the Journey, LLC was established to increase the accessibility of mental health services to individuals and families. The importance of self-care and mental wellness is one of the lessons learned from the pandemic. Semikah Johnson has provided interactive mental wellness virtual workshops to hundreds of Getting Ahead participants. A highly skilled therapist, she believes in a holistic approach to working with individuals with troubling issues, creating a safe and supportive environment that allows individuals to express their feelings openly and honestly.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention – Since 1969, Grassroots Crisis Intervention has provided crisis intervention resources to the Howard County community. In partnership with Howard County Health Department, Grassroots has increased its capacity to provide in-person screening to adults, youth and families dealing with substance misuse issues. In addition, Grassroots also provides multiple resources to help individuals with food, clothing and health care needs, all while offering a safe place to stay. Grassroots is a reliable referral resource for Getting Ahead and, in partnership with Howard County Department of Social Services, hosted its first Getting Ahead group with nine participants.

Howard County Department of Social Services – The Department of Social Services (DSS) has been a constant and reliable partner of Getting Ahead. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, DSS continued to host Getting Ahead groups for their clients in the community despite the many challenges of the times. As DSS’ Getting Ahead facilitators, Sharon Narcisse and Sherry Banks bring a wealth of experience. DCRS shares their vision and mission to pursue opportunities to assist people in economic need, provide prevention services and protect vulnerable children and adults.

The Judy Center (Howard Public School System) – The Judy Center serves more than 500 hundred children and 250 families each year. The Center's vision is to improve school success through early intervention and provide comprehensive services to families with young children. Nancy Smith and her colleagues have connected with Getting Ahead participants, helping them learn key concepts to build a better future for their families.

MakingChange – A committed partner of the Getting Ahead program since 2013, MakingChange offers financial literacy education to the Howard County community. Financial literacy is one of the most requested resources from Getting Ahead participants, and MakingChange’s commitment to empowering financial stability has led to a long and successful partnership, improving the lives of Getting Ahead graduates.

For more information about the Getting Ahead program, contact Office of the Local Children’s Board Getting Ahead Coordinator Marchelle LeBlanc at 410-313-0225 or visit www.howardcountymd.gov/local-childrens-board/getting-ahead-workshop. 

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