Four Harford County women shaping their communities

It’s all about community for these four women. One saw a need to help connect newcomers to the county with local businesses. Another runs a small business that has helped revitalize a Main Street corridor. And a pair of women have worked together on a project to preserve African-American history.

In doing so, these influential women are making an impact on Harford County.

Ana Lewis, Native or Not founder

Ana Lewis, 32, has been a stranger in new areas more than once.

As a military wife, she has relocated six times in nine years to states where she didn’t know where to buy groceries, find clothes for her family or get the best deals.

She always wondered if there was a way to help those who are new to an area become insiders on day one.

“With every move, it’s really challenging to integrate into our local community until we meet someone,” said Lewis, who now lives in Abingdon with her husband and two daughters, ages 5 and 3. “It takes way too long to get to know the local businesses that you should support.”

So she came up with an idea to help connect local businesses to those searching for guidance.

In April, Lewis launched her “Native or Not” blog, where local businesses can post their information, specials and sales in one easy-to-find place.

The website launched with about 15 business listings. Not only does Lewis add more business listings herself, but businesses can add their own information and sales. (The listings aren’t added without confirmation that the deals and information are accurate.)

Lewis has been visiting local businesses to pitch her idea.

The first business she visited was jewelry and accessories shop Julie Ellyn Designs Handmade on Main in Bel Air, where owner Julie Ter Borg helped Lewis network.

“When Ana first came to me I thought that ‘Native or Not’ was such an excellent platform with great potential,” Ter Borg said. “I’ve been supporting her ever since.”

While it has a Harford County focus now, Lewis hopes to expand the “Native or Not” brand nationally as an app that users can access on their phones while out and about.

For now, Lewis is grateful that she’s able to help those new to the area and to give a voice to local businesses.

“I’m thrilled to be able to make a difference in the community by helping people new to town to settle in a little quicker while helping local businesses stand out,” she said.

-- Valerie Bonk, For Harford Magazine

Margaret Ferguson, Roxann Redd-Wallace, co-chairwomen of the African-American History of Harford County Project

Margaret Ferguson had always been a fan of history, especially the history she had been denied in school as an African-American. Roxann Redd-Wallace wasn’t much a fan of history before researching her family’s genealogy.

“I was a terrible student in school. History was never my thing,” said Redd-Wallace, but “once I did that, I was hooked.”

So when the friends and Abingdon residents learned of the African-American History of Harford County Project, grassroots organization Campaign 42’s program that documents the often-untold histories, struggles, contributions and accomplishments of African-Americans in Harford County, both jumped on board.

In 2016, they joined the all-volunteer project, assisting in the creation of digital pamphlets, now distributed via email biweekly.

Today, as co-chairwomen, Ferguson and Redd-Wallace organize the group’s committee of 10 to 15 volunteers and join in on the legwork of researching, conducting and transcribing interviews with locals, corroborating stories with records and perfecting the final product before publication.

The two have been surprised by the project’s discoveries, which include “ordinary people who have done extraordinary things,” including superstar athletes, entrepreneurs, doctors, educators and people who had helped build the county since its beginnings, said Ferguson, 68.

“I’m hoping that the pamphlets we are putting out will bring light to the truth. So much of our history is misinformed, missing, forgotten or alienated. These pamphlets go into details of local lives and bring to light facts people aren’t aware of,” Ferguson said.

This summer, the volunteer group will publish their 100th pamphlet, and will create their own website, where people can access more information.

“It’s a labor of love. It’s a lot of hard work, but the effort is worth it, because we’re putting out history — history that has been untold,” said Redd-Wallace, 65.

But there’s still more work to do.

Ferguson said she hopes to see other black communities “from Alabama to Wyoming” dig into their history and document it, “because if we lost our history, they did, too,” she said. A simple way to start is to keep important documents, like birth certificates, awards and photos, she advised.

“They tell a story of the past, that we as African-Americans don’t have the luxury of losing.”

-- Brittany Britto, Harford Magazine

Laurie Orfanidis, Sunny Day Cafe owner

Sunny Day Cafe has been a beacon of hospitality and happiness since it opened in Bel Air six years ago. But its owner’s positivity shines well beyond the Main Street restaurant.

Laurie Orfanidis opened Sunny Day Cafe at 101 S. Main St. in 2012, and in that time the commercial strip has experienced a revitalization.

“When we first moved here there, was really not much going on on Main Street,” Orfanidis said. “Over the years it just really exploded. I’d like to think that we helped that.”

New shops and eateries have opened along Main Street since Sunny Day got its start, and tables beneath umbrellas outside the cafe continue to welcome guests to stop in for a crab cake or a crepe.

“It’s just amazing how she’s made such a welcoming place for people of any age,” said Ellen Hickey, a longtime friend and customer of Orfanidis’.

Though she works seven days a week and rarely takes a day off, Orfanidis’ work extends outside the cafe. She sits on the board of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, gives out cookies during the town’s Christmas parade, donates food to events honoring fallen police officers, volunteers at Bel Air’s First Friday events and rarely turns down a request to help an individual or organization in need.

“Anything positive we can do in the area will end up having a positive effect on me as well, and if I can help that grow, I’m there,” Orfanidis, 52, said. “I try to help everybody, so I really don’t pick and choose. ... People choose me.”

A people-pleaser, Orfanidis said she’s happiest when her customers and neighbors are happy.

“My name means everything to me,” Orfanidis said. “ ‘Sunny Day’ is my name, and I just always want people to have a positive view.”

-- Sarah Meehan, Harford Magazine

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
68°