Leslie Vallade

Leslie Vallade, president of the Loch Raven Fireworks Foundation, on June 27, stands in the field at Loch Raven Technical Academy in Towson where the local Fourth of July fireworks take place. Vallade says the foundation needs to raise several thousand dollars by the end of July to cover the cost of the spectacle. (Staff photo by Jon Sham, Baltimore Sun Media Group / July 1, 2013)

Leslie Vallade is a woman on a mission.

As president of the new nonprofit Loch Raven Fireworks Foundation Inc., she said only a third of the $10,000 needed to stage the annual July 4 fireworks display at Loch Raven Technical Academy has been raised.

But Vallade is undaunted in her efforts and confident that spectators from the dozens of nearby neighborhoods who attend the display will come through by donating the remaining $6,500 to cover its costs.

It's "been very stressful. I'm tearing my hair out," said Vallade, of Loch Raven Village, adding that the bill will have to be paid by the end of July.

So dedicated to ensuring that the fireworks go on this year and future years, Vallade helped set up the foundation with a sole responsibility of fundraising and organizing Towson's only public fireworks display.

The job previously fell to the Associates of Loch Raven Village, the area's community association. Vallade resigned from the association board to devote her time to the nonprofit foundation.

"Tradition is very important and sometimes it's all you have," Vallade said. "The fireworks have been in this community for a very long time. It's important to us to keep them here." 

The co-founder of the foundation last November was fellow Loch Raven Village resident David Baker, a paralegal for a law firm who deals with nonprofits. "I'm the one with the technical expertise," said Baker, who now serves as foundation vice president and treasurer. "Leslie's the one-man band promoting it."

Since the fireworks benefit the entire community, the foundation has been set up with the idea of involving the entire Towson community, said Baker. "We'd like all the other associations to become a part of it," Baker said.

Last year, Walmart donated $10,000, Micro Center gave $500 and Heritage Properties donated $500. Other businesses have donated funds in prior years.

"But this year, we have been unable to secure funding from a large corporate sponsor. With only $3,500 in hand at this point, the foundation is short of our fundraising goals. We're in need of donations, as well as volunteers," Vallade said.

'Whose fireworks are they?'

The question that led to the formation of a foundation independent of the community association was, "Whose fireworks are they?" 

It was raised whenever the association board discussed how to raise fireworks funds and the manpower to stage any given year's display, considering the board's other responsibilities. 

After all, the fireworks were being staged at the school in the Loch Raven Village neighborhood, but spectators were coming from dozens of other Towson-area neighborhoods as well as Baltimore City. In recognition of that, community associations for nearby Knettishall and Fellowship Forest have made donations each year.

"Board members had different opinions about whether we should continue to provide the financial support for the fireworks," Gary Herwig, association president said. "We spent an inordinate amount of time discussing it each year."

Forming the foundation appeared to be "a worthwhile endeavor," Herwig said. "There was very little opposition."

The board voted to support the foundation as well as to transfer to it the $3,000 left over from last year's event and to make a $500 contribution, as well.

The problem was, the board didn't make that final decision until March, Vallade said. "That didn't give us much time to solicit funds."

Vallade hasn't considered canceling the contract for this year's display with New Jersey-based Fireworks Extravaganza, the offshoot of Fireworks Productions of Maryland, which had produced the Loch Raven fireworks for years.

"If we let it go for just one year, we might not be able to use the Loch Raven school fields again," she said.

Not so, according to Baltimore County Schools spokesman Charles Herndon, who said, "The best we can determine is that fireworks organizers would be able to continue even if they don't do the fireworks one year."

But Vallade isn't taking any chances. "Policies change as administrations change," she said.

The foundation's application for 501c3 status is currently pending with the Internal Revenue Service. Unlike contributions to the association, contributions to the foundation will be tax deductible once they receive IRS approval, he said. 

Earlier this week, Vallade sent an email enlisting help and donations for the fireworks, to Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, who was "more than happy to help," he said. Hartman said he will get the message out to the organization's 30 community associations.

Meanwhile, the foundation is staging a raffle for a $500 prize. Tickets are $2.They can be purchased through Vallade.

The foundation is equally in need of volunteers who would be willing to sell raffle tickets door-to-door, collect donations from local businesses, assist with clean-up and collect donations from spectators at the fireworks on the 4th of July.

Fireworks for Loch Raven began in the 1970s when the owners of the former Luskin's store staged an annual fireworks display on their parking lot of top of Luskin's Hill between Joppa Road and the Beltway. The display was visible for miles, according to Donna Spicer, a former fireworks volunteer and community activist.

Vallade recalls seeing it from her front porch after she moved to the Village 14 years ago.

After Luskin's opted to redevelop the parking lot and withdrew its sponsorship, the display ended up at the technical academy, Loch Raven's middle school, Spicer said. Through the years, various civic groups helped sponsor the fireworks. They included the Loch Raven Community Council, Loch Raven Business Association and the Loch Raven Kiwanis Club. 

"We ended up pleading with the association to take it over," Spicer said.

Putting the fireworks display in the care of a foundation should be a big help," Spicer said. "Everybody who goes to watch the fireworks should contribute to keep the tradition going."

"Fireworks and backyard barbecues — it's America and apple pie," Vallade said.

Checks should be made payable to: Loch Raven Fireworks Foundation Inc., P.O. Box 20309, Towson, MD 21284. To contact Leslie Vallade, email lrfireworks@gmail.com or call  443-519-9388.