COLUMBIA, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball bestowed nearly 100 ‘Rise to the Challenge’ awards during a ceremony at Merriweather Post Pavilion Thursday evening that recognized hundreds of community members who gave selflessly at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first-of-its kind ceremony was designed to show appreciation for public-sector employees, health-care workers, business organizations, faith-based leaders and others who helped clients, friends, neighbors and others persevere during a generational health crisis.

With the most frightening times behind us, we can reflect and give thanks to how far we have come, while still remembering those whose lives were taken by the virus. We are honoring those who put others ahead of themselves, who held hands and delivered meals. Who fought against isolation and rebuilt our community as a virus threatened to tear it apart.

Calvin Ball
County Exercutive

Photos from the event can be found here, and a commemorative video chronicling the County’s Covid-19 response can be viewed here 


The Howard County community banded together during the pandemic in unprecedented ways. Howard County was the first jurisdiction in the state with at least 50 percent of eligible residents fully vaccinated, and the current vaccination rate tops 95 percent. The county distributed more than $20.8 million in relief grants to 2,251 recipients through its HoCo RISE initiative and offered housing assistance that kept more than 2,700 families in their homes.

Howard County received more than 400 nominations for Rise to the Challenge awards in 19 categories, including Education Hero, Early Childhood Care, Excellence in Remote Instruction, Nonprofit Innovation, Business Innovation, Business Perseverance, Public Health Hero, Frontline Medical Response, Senior Care Service and Healthcare Hero.

The top winner in each category received the Rise to the Challenge ‘Sunrise Distinction’ designation.

Special recognition was awarded to the Howard County Police Department, the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, and the Howard County Department of Corrections.

Awards were presented by community leaders including: Maryland State Sen. Clarence Lam, M.D.; Maryland State Del. Terri Hill, M.D.; Maryland State Del. Courtney Watson; Tonya Aikens, President and CEO, Howard County Public Library System; Bita Dayoff, Former President, Community Action Council of Howard County; Dr. Kate Hetherington, Former President, Howard Community College; Amanda Hof, Executive Director, Visit Howard County; Leonardo McClarty, President and CEO, Howard County Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Michael Martirano, Superintendent, Howard County Public Schools System; Jackie Scott, Director of Howard County Department of Community Resources and Services; Larry Twele, CEO, Howard County Economic Development Authority; and Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO, the Horizon Foundation.


Below is a complete list of Rise to the Challenge award winners:

Category: Excellence in Remote or Hybrid Instruction Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Rohini Gupta, Adult Curriculum Specialist, Howard County Library System

  • Office of Instructional Technology & Office of Media Services at the Howard County Public School System

  • E-Learning & Faculty Departments at Howard Community College

  • SNAP Education Team

  • Cathy Burkett, Assistant Director, Glenwood 50+ Center, Department of Community Resources and Services

Category: Education Hero Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Erika Strauss-Chavarria, Columbia Cares Community.

  • Treva Hilliard, 3rd Grade Teacher, Northfield Elementary School

  • Howard County Community College Information Technology Department

  • Dr. Yan Sun, Howard County Chinese School

  • Kazandra Anderson, Coordinator of Teen Parenting Program at Wilde Lake High School

Category: Early Childhood Care Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Nicola Morgal, Bureau Chief of Recreation, Department of Recreation and Parks

  • Eco Tots Learning

  • Goddard School of Columbia

  • Ruby Daniels, President of the Maryland State Family Child Care Association

  • Office of Children and Families, Department of Community Resources and Services

Category: Data Hero Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Johnia Curtis, Epidemiologist, Howard County Health Department

  • Tom Bradley, Technology Manager, Department of Community Resources and Services

  • Sean Masterson, Technical Services Support Specialist, Department of Technology and Communications Services

  • Zach Jones, Director of Marketing and Research, Economic Development Authority

  • Jimmy Kwak, Administrative Manager, Budget Office in Howard County Government

Category: Community Champion Award

  • Sunrise distinction: Rev. Andrew James, Columbia Baptist Church

  • Cuiwei Zhao, Howard County Chinese School Community

  • Cris Oviedo, co-Chair of La Alianza Workgroup

  • Nette Stokes, Founder of JustLiving Advocacy

  • Susan Garber representing the Savage Community

Category: Service Award

  • Sunrise distinction: Community Action Council of Howard County

  • Howard County Chamber of Commerce

  • Camp Attaway

  • S.A.F.E. Food Pantry

  • Columbia Community Cares

Category: Nonprofit Innovation Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Clarksville Youth Care Group and Kits to Heart

  • African Art Museum of Maryland

  • Power 52

  • Howard County Conservancy

  • Community Ecology Institute

Category: Faith-based Collaborator Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: St. John Baptist Church

  • Grace Community Church

  • Wilde Lake Interfaith Center

  • Dar Al Taqwa

  • Bethel Assembly of God

Category: Stand-out Representative Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Bruce Fulton, Neighbor Ride

  • Ralph Grunewald, Jewish Federation of Howard county; Young Smith, League of Korean Americans; Willie Flowers, NAACP; Maryland State Chapter; Zo Tum Hmung, Chin Integration and Advocacy Network USA

  • Jonathan Ahn from Bethel Korean Church; and Frank Easton from Bridgeway Community Church

  • Nakear Frazier, The Arc of Howard County

  • Jason Herring, Equipment Connections for Children

Category: Business Innovation Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: FirstCall Medical Center

  • MPI360

  • MindGrub

  • RfidCollect

  • Visit Howard County

Category: Business Perseverance

  • Sunrise Distinction: Nightmare Graphics

  • Wilde Lake Karate and Learning Center

  • Silver Diner

  • The Cured/18th & 21st

  • Board and Brush of Columbia

Category: Customer Commitment Award

  • Sunrise distinction: Dr. Pascal Crosley, Quality First Urgent Care

  • The Pearl Spa

  • Wegmans In-store Shoppers Team

  • Safeway Store #1281

  • Althea’s Almost Famous

Category: Public Health Hero Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Howard County Health Department

  • Office of Emergency Management

  • Child Protective Services Team, Department of Social Services

  • Jennifer White, Horizon Foundation

  • Dr. Maura Rossman

Category: County Crusader Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Nkechi Animashaun, Department of Housing and Community Development

  • Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant

  • Office of Community Partnerships, Department of Community Resources and Services

  • Edward McClean II, Peer Recovery Specialist, Howard County Health Department

  • Local Children’s Board, Department of Community Resources and Services

Category: Public Service Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: 911 Communications Team

  • Department of Public Works’ Operations and Collections Team

  • Department of Technology and Community Services’ WebEx Team and Service Desk

  • Recreation and Parks’ Construction, Park Rangers, Park, and Warehouse staff

  • Sheriff’s Office- Community Outreach

Category: Frontline Medical Response Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Mobile Integrated Community Health Team

  • Howard County Public School System Nurse Team -- Shannon Blount and Kerri Wagaman

  • Asian American Health Group

  • Centennial Medical Group

  • Howard County General Hospital Emergency Department – Dr. Patricia Pugh 

Category: Behavioral Health Support Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Howard County Public School System Behavioral Health Team

  • Sheppard Pratt Health Services

  • Grassroots

  • Remote Occupational Therapy

  • Bureau of Behavioral Health, Dr. Roe Bonaccorsy

Category: Senior Care Service Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Connections Program

  • Gilchrist Hospice, Cathy Hamel

  • Lorien Health, Lou Grimmel Sr., Chief Executive Officer.

  • Encore Lorien Health, administrator Jim Hummer

  • Department of Community Resources and Services Office of Aging’s 50+ Centers and Health, Promotion, and Nutrition Team

Category: Healthcare Hero Award

  • Sunrise Distinction: Howard County General Hospital Executive Leadership Team, Dr. M. Shafeeq Ahmed and Gene Mellin, Director of Emergency Management

  • Krista Hein and Amir Masood from Safeway

  • Cesar Visurraga

  • RTA of Central Maryland

  • Felicia Stein & Staff


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