Yevola Peters

Yevola Peters, winner of the statewide volunteer award, the William Donald Schaefer People Award, stands in the church where she volunteers. (Kaitlin Newman, Baltimore Sun / May 27, 2014)

If Yevola Peters were ever in a tight spot, she hopes that someone would be willing to lend a hand.

That's why the 78-year-old Annapolis resident has devoted her life to advocating for at-risk families and children in the Annapolis area.

"We are our brother's keepers," she said. "I've been fortunate so far — but you never know what could happen."

Peters, a former music teacher in several public school systems across Maryland — including Anne Arundel — began her advocacy work in 1966 when she started volunteering with the Community Action Agency, an anti-poverty nonprofit in the county that worked with families and youth. She later joined the staff, rising to the role of chief executive officer in 1974.

During her tenure at the agency, which ended in 2005, Peters managed more than $6 million in funding annually, she said.

She credits her upbringing in Orangeburg, S.C., and her parents' example of community activism, for instilling in her a desire to help others.

"My parents were both educators," Peters said. "They'd see children in need, and they would nourish them."

For her service, Peters was recently the Anne Arundel honoree for the 2014 William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award. The award, which is now in its third year and given by state Comptroller Peter Franchot, goes to individuals and corporations in each county for their work to help neighbors in the community.

Criteria for the award include aiding the most vulnerable in society and working to improve the community.

Peters was nominated for the award by the Rev. Randy Callender, rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. She currently serves as the volunteer executive director for the church's Family Life Center, in addition to her work as the chair of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, and works with other county boards and commissions.

In her role with St. Philip's, her primary aim is to secure grants that can help low-income families with housing and other needs. Peters said she particularly enjoys working with parents to help them find the means to further their children's education.

"What she does, she doesn't consider it work," Callender said. "She looks at it as a life ministry, a calling."

"She's my right-hand person," he said. "I'm very excited for her that she got this award."

The Helping People award was presented to Peters by Franchot during a May 16 ceremony at St. Philip's. Christine Feldman, a spokeswoman for Franchot, said Peters' "relentless commitment" to her advocacy work made her stand out.

"She's in her 70s, and this woman just doesn't slow down," Feldman said. "She is incredibly dedicated and so passionate."

The honor is not the first for Peters; in 2012, she was inducted into the county's Community Action Hall of Fame. For her part, Peters said her accomplishments have all come about as a result of help from others who are also committed to the cause.

"No one does anything alone," she said. "It's a group effort."

Still, she was grateful for her moment in the spotlight.

"It was certainly a very pleasant surprise," she said.