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Szymanski: Evolution of Community Foundation shows the ‘magic of Carroll County’

Community Foundation of Carroll County director Audrey Cimino is pictured with her lamp, the one piece of furniture she had when moving into the Carroll Nonprofit Center.
Community Foundation of Carroll County director Audrey Cimino is pictured with her lamp, the one piece of furniture she had when moving into the Carroll Nonprofit Center. (Lois Szymanski)

Carroll County is a community on fire — a fire of love and concern and giving, lots of giving. It nearly makes me cry whenever I stop to think about the depth of what goes on this little county, yet so many have no idea. There is an undercurrent that warms the soul. I was recently reminded of how blessed we are to live here.

I never knew about the networking breakfast that Taneytown holds monthly at Thunderhead Bowling, until Amy Gilford at the Marriage and Relationship Education Center asked me if I would like to go to it. So last Friday, there I was, at 7:30 a.m., walking into the bowling alley. I was immediately greeted by Nancy McCormick, Taneytown’s Economic Development director, and in the moments leading up to the speaker, I met a slew of community leaders I did not previously know.

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The speaker for this breakfast was Audrey Cimino, director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, but instead of speaking, she brought in others — just a few from the 323 individual causes sheltered under the Community Foundation umbrella. I was touched by stories from Catherine’s Cause, Ellsworth Cemetery, PADD (Positive Alternatives to Dangerous and Destructive Decisions), Friends of Disabled Veterans in Carroll County, and the Pregnancy Support Center of Carroll County. But it was Audrey herself, who got me thinking about the volume of impact that is housed inside the Carroll Nonprofit Center. Her few comments about its founding made me curious, so I made a point of talking to her about it this week.

Audrey shared how her bank got the Community Foundation started.

“From ’94 to 2001, I was working for the bank. The Community Foundation was a box under my desk. Then, I moved into a small office at HSP, a 5 x 9 closet,” she said with a laugh. “While at HSP I got a phone call from Marty Soninshine, executive director of Anverse Corporation. He wondered if I could arrange a meeting of the nonprofits. I had no idea who he was, but we talked a long time. He said we had a mutual friend, Melvin Mills of Mills Communication.”

Audrey said, after she hung up, she called Melvin Mills, who told her, “Audrey, listen to me very carefully. Do everything he says.” Melvin knew something big was about to unfold. Anverse Inc. decided they were going to donate a building to house nonprofits in Carroll County.

Soon after, Anverse purchased the land to build, but the market tanked, so it was a long time until the building came to fruition. But finally, they dug a hole and construction started.

“I would take my lunch and park there, and sit and watch the men work,” Audrey said. “One day Mark got a call from the general contractor about a white-haired lady who came and sat and watched them work.” She laughed. “They have done a Herculean task, giving organizations who did not have a place to exist — only a post office box — a home.”

Some say it is an ugly building, but Audrey says they are wrong. It is a beautiful building. She is right. The heart of that building beats so loud, it almost shakes the building. And that is because of what goes on inside.

“It cost them about $400,000 per year to maintain that building, and the little bit we pay does not come close to that. [Anverse pays] the salaries of three people [a manager, an assistant and groundskeeper] and all the upkeep. It truly is a gift to this community,” she said.

As someone who works part-time for the Marriage and Relationship Education Center, I know what Audrey is talking about. I am in that building two days a week and it is filled with people who are all doing God’s work. Every single one of them is making a difference in the lives of someone in need. Anverse has blessed so many of our neighborhood friends with their gift.

“It was amazing to see how it evolved, very organically.” Audrey said. “Right after Mark and I moved in, I got a call from the Sturgells [who owned an accounting firm]. They said, ‘We just bought a new building and we want to give all of our old furniture to the nonprofit building.’ From basement to attic they gave us filing cabinets, desks, chairs and even file folders. We filled that big meeting room with furniture. Then, one of the local furniture companies donated more items. Trucks would come to the front door. People dropped off copiers, printers, trash cans, anything they thought we might need.”

It truly was a community coming together.

“When I walked into that building, I owned one thing — a lamp,” Audrey said. “Anverse bought everyone in the building a chair and a filing cabinet, plus the refrigerator, microwave and all the things in our little kitchen. People have found permanent homes in that building, all of them doing amazing work. The beauty of the building is that it is flexible. As groups grow, they move to another area. We share spaces and we all are happy with that.”

Audrey calls it a “not so minor miracle,” and I have to agree. The building breathes with life, people helping people, and everyone working together in the spirit of cooperation. When word gets out that someone in the community is in need, Audrey says everyone with a connection gets on the phone to get it done.

“Several years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, a young couple walked in the door,” Audrey said. “Mark met them. They had two toddlers and a baby carriage with a newborn. He quickly learned they had just been kicked out of a friend’s home and they were homeless.”

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Audrey said Mark called for her to come downstairs. They brainstormed. He put them up overnight with emergency fund money, and everyone in building with a connection started to make calls. Within one week they’d found a job for the father, enrolled the toddlers in preschool and found a home for the family.

“They went to Shepherds Staff for Thanksgiving,” Audrey said. “It’s the magic of Carroll County. We network like nobody’s business. There’s no brass band. We don’t need that. We just do it. That’s what Carroll County is all about.”

I have to agree with Audrey. It is pretty spectacular. If you haven’t discovered it yet, stop by a networking meeting or volunteer at one of the charities in the building. You will be amazed!

Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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