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For Sylvia Canon award winner, a life of service above all

Matt Peeling

It's all but impossible to describe everything that Matt Peeling does under one name or rubric.

Peeling is the chief information officer for Mosaic Community Services, which provides mental health services in Carroll County and around the region, but thathardly defines him in full. He's also a 4-H mentor — for more than 20 years — a veteran of the Cold War era, and a volunteer firefighter; plus, he serves on a wide array of chapters, boards and councils.

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But if you distill it all down, you find that, in essence, he just likes to help people — in fact, he's driven to help people.

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"The things I do, I don't do them for accolades," Peeling said in an interview Tuesday. "If I have helped one person, that makes me feel like I have done something to improve this world."

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But people tend to notice someone like that.

On Wednesday morning, Peeling will be the 15th recipient of the Sylvia Canon Humanitarian Award, an annual honor given by the Carroll County Community Services Council that recognizes a person who has contributed to improving human services organizations in the county.

"Matt has been dedicated to service since he was a teenager," Community Services Council President Maggie Kunz said. "The Community Services Council Board was impressed by the breadth and depth of Matt's service and outreach, and felt that this made him a great choice for this year's Sylvia Canon award."

Peeling got a taste for service early. Today, he lives in New Windsor, but he grew up in Baltimore County, where he got involved with the health club at Owings Mills High School.

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"We would go out to nursing homes and help the folks in those nursing homes and help the folks in there smile," he said. "We would play games and take them gifts and things of that nature, and entertain them for an hour during the day. That was always a fun thing for me."

At age 16, Peeling became a volunteer firefighter. At 18, he joined the Army Reserve, hoping to become a firefighter, and wound up as a combat medic.

When he was 20, working a civilian job as a plumber, Peeling's life changed forever.

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"I was driving forklift on a job site, Oakland Mills Middle," he said. "It tipped with me inside it, and I was a big guy, 6-4, 220 pounds. I tried to jump out, but I got tangled up with it. It broke my back."

The accident left him a paraplegic, and Peeling had to confront one of the most uncomfortable things for a person who likes to be active and focus on others — accepting help for himself.

"The way it influenced me was to work harder because I didn't want people having to help me," he said. "I was in Shock Trauma for three weeks and in rehab for three months, and then I was back home."

Getting back to it, he became an adult mentor with Baltimore County 4-H, the program he had come up through as a child.

"I am there every year, I run their bicycle department," Peeling said. "We have what we call the bicycle rodeo at the fair every year, and I have continued to do that. I think it's 26, 27 years now."

More recently, Peeling has worked with the Carroll County Technology Council to get refurbished computers to families who cannot afford them, as a mentor in a Women in STEM program, as a judge in VEX Robotics competitions and as a member of the Carroll County Adult Public Guardianship Review Board.

"We meet every month and go through cases of people who are in the care of the county to ensure they are receiving the property care that they desire and deserve," Peeling said.

That's not even a complete list of Peeling's volunteer activities, and in fact, they are always growing.

It was this boundless energy and activity that so impressed Karen Koenigsberg, program coordinator and family navigator with the Get Connected Family Resource Center in Westminster. The two have worked together in the past, and Koenigsberg decided she would nominate Peeling for the Sylvia Canon award.

"It seemed like every time I turned around he was volunteering or coming up with a new thing, a new way to reach out to people," she said. "Especially with my being a veteran, I was very impressed with the work that he does with disabled veterans."

Peeling has made himself available as a life coach to wounded veterans through Serving Our Willing Warriors, served as the first president of largest registered chapter of the Student Veterans of America — the American Military University chapter — and helped create a veterans center at the Charles Town, West Virginia, campus of American Public University.

"The same thing we did in ... West Virginia, with the Veterans Center, I've already started talking to a few people to see if we can't do something locally," Peeling said. "That's my passion — we're helping soldiers transition from a military lifestyle/career, into a civilian/academic career."

Peeling will be receiving a service award on the 75th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, and while the timing is purely coincidental, it's very meaningful to Peeling, whose family members have also served. His late aunt retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer after a career that spanned World War II, Korea and Vietnam, while his father was a Navy SEAL at a time when they were still called "frogmen."

"I am a big military person, I wear my flag on my chest," Peeling said. "Pearl Harbor is kind of like the biggest, early tragic things that happened to this country, and all it did was bring everybody together. Maybe I sound cliche or quirky about it, but it's how I feel. If we can bring people together, there will be so much we can do."

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misidentified the location of the veterans center Matt Peeling helped create. It is located in Charles Town, West Virginnia.

jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-3317



twitter.com/CCT_Health

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