Atholton High volunteers

Students from after-school clubs at Atholton High School have volunteered at the neighboring Tubman Head Start Center since 2005. The student volunteers were named Volunteer Team of the Year. (Submitted photo / March 20, 2014)

After retiring from his government job in 2008, Steve Sternheimer began what he calls "a second career," volunteering.

Each week, the Columbia resident drives seniors everywhere from doctor's offices and the grocery store to church and even the hair salon as part of Neighbor Ride, a volunteer-based transportation service. In a year, he drives almost 5,000 miles so seniors who cannot drive or have limited driving abilities can reach their destinations.

"He's always willing to show up and take a shift," said Colleen Konstanzer, Neighbor Ride's community outreach coordinator. "He's so enthusiastic about Neighbor Ride and service that it's contagious."

That enthusiasm, dedication to service and the countless seniors he has helped, is why the Association of Community Services of Howard County will honor him March 28 with the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Volunteer of the Year Award.

The award is one of seven Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Awards to be given during a luncheon at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville.

"It's not just a celebration of the winners but a celebration of the good work all the service providers give," says Joan Driessen, executive director of ACS.

Founded in 1963, ACS is a network of nonprofit and human services providers in Howard County. It began awarding the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Awards, named after a former director of the county's Department of Social Services, in 1975.

Each year, a membership committee reviews nominations and selects winners for five of the awards: Volunteer of the Year, Volunteer Team of the Year, Employer of the Year, Employee Team of the Year and Business of the Year. Members of the ACS board of directors chose Legacy Award winners.

Howard County has a long history of helping its residents in times of need, Driessen said.

"There's a real spirit in this community that individuals make an impact, and we can solve the problems that exist," she said.

Still, those who go above and beyond to help others don't get the recognition they deserve, Driessen said. The Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Awards is just one way to acknowledge their efforts.

"It always helps to know your good work is recognized, even though most of them are incredibly humble," Driessen said.

This year, ACS will present Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Awards to the following people and groups:

Steve Sternheimer, Neighbor Ride (Volunteer of the Year) — Sternheimer learned early on the importance of community service. When he was a child, his parents started a homeless shelter for families in Nashville, Tenn. Since then, he said he lives by the saying, "You make a living by getting. You make a life by giving."

Sternheimer, 71, is fluent in Russian — a skill that comes in handy when transporting many of the county's Russian-born seniors for Neighbor Ride. He is also the first to volunteer for community and hospital health events to explain the organization and recruit new members, Konstanzer said.

"It's clear he believes in everyone's responsibility in impacting your community and making it a better place," she said.

Sternheimer, whose wife, Sue, also volunteers with Neighbor Ride, said he thinks of Neighbor Ride as an investment in others' futures, as well as his own. "We'll all be there some day," he said.

Atholton High School Head Start volunteers (Volunteer Team of the Year) — To the 3- and 4-year-olds at the Tubman Head Start Center in Columbia, the visiting Atholton High School students are not just teenagers. They are "big friends" from the "big school," said Mary Brezinski, the school's work study coordinator and transition specialist. And when the "big friends" sit down to read with the "little friends," play a game with them or bring them on the high school's athletic field to march with the marching band and cheer with the cheerleaders, "magic happens," she said.

At-risk children learn how important — and how much fun — high school is, while the teens learn how their lives can impact others, Brezinski said.

"They're heroes," she said of the teens.