This year, we are proud to feature five (S)heroes Among Us who have led critical efforts on behalf of organizations that we have funded this year through our Emergency Response Network, who are focusing on widespread community needs affecting women, their families, and the broader community:
Jen Broderick - Bridges to Housing Stability
Erika Strauss Chavarria - Columbia Community Care
Bita Dayhoff - Community Action Council
Dr. Mariana Izraelson - Grassroots Crisis Intervention
The final (S)hero recognized this year is Vanita Leatherwood, the Executive Director of HopeWorks of Howard County. They are dedicated to providing comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. With help from the community, HopeWorks tackles the prevention of such violence by changing the attitudes and culture surrounding assault. This organization’s persistence through the pandemic has made a lasting impact on Howard County, and the passion begins with Vanita Leatherwood.
Vanita’s passion for giving back began during her time in college, where she fell in love with the Howard County community.
“Howard County was my first home where I felt safe. When I moved back years later it was a great feeling to do the work I love in a community that I love,” said Vanita.
Through HopeWorks, Vanita has continued to provide services and help to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many issues that arose due to the new virtual environment, but Vanita continued to serve those in need.
“All of our services and tasks needed to be transformed into virtual platforms. It was a massive feat of research, creating policies, acquiring new or upgraded technology and learning,” said Vanita. She added, “We brainstormed a lot to reach folks who did not have access to technology. Residential services, of course, cannot be virtual. There was a lot to be done to make our facilities safe for our clients and staff.”
Vanita grows optimistic about returning to a safe, in-person environment. She says, “I look forward to getting through the pandemic. We miss each other; staff and clients.”
And yet, despite these challenges, HopeWorks continues to grow and adjust.
“Our work is about healing and the pandemic has added another layer of challenges created by inequities. We continue to address the root causes of sexual and intimate partner violence as we battle COVID-19,” said Vanita.
But the strength of HopeWorks relies on the knowledge of the Howard County community. Getting involved in the organization increases awareness about violence prevention, bringing us closer to a safe community. HopeWorks promotes the idea of “engagement as service.” Community members can get involved simply by attending one of HopeWork’s education and community wellness programs.
Vanita leaves us with a few words of guidance about the lasting impact of service.
“The advice I can give to others hoping to give back is summarized in a quote by poet/activist Alice Walker, ‘Look closely at the present you are constructing: It should look like the future you are dreaming.’”
Please join us in thanking Vanita Leatherwood and all WGC’s (S)heroes for their efforts. And, we hope you will join us in highlighting every day (S)heroes Among Us, by uploading a photo of YOUR Howard County (S)heroes on our WGC (S)heroes Among Us Virtual Mosaic Wall.