Schaefer Award celebrates service to community by Shepherd's Staff
By KYM BYRNES
May 07, 2014 | 5:48 PM
The years of community service by the Westminster nonprofit Shepherd's Staff was honored May 7 when State Comptroller Peter Franchot presented the organization with one of his William Donald Schaefer Helping People Awards.
"I am so happy to be in a position to recognize a faith-based organization like this," Franchot said during the Wednesday afternoon presentation at the organization's Carroll Street residence. "Thanks for treating people first and foremost with dignity."
Shepherd's Staff, in downtown Westminster, provides support to individuals and families in crisis. Created out of a partnership between local churches more than 20 years ago, Shepherd's Staff does not receive any county, state or federal funding. In addition to providing meals, bathing facilities and clothing, the organization also assists families with back-to-school needs, emergency financial assistance and prescription financial assistance.
"Receiving this award is a tremendous honor," Shepherd's Staff Executive Director Brenda Meadows said on the award, which Franchot presents annually to winners in each of the state's 24 jurisdictions. "It's humbling. But for us, the blessing is that it helps us get the word out about Shepherd's Staff and it honors our volunteers and those who support us."
Meadows said that Shepherd's Staff has seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance each of the last five years.
In 2012, the organization served 3,045 households. In 2013, that number jumped to 3,976 — approximately a 30 percent increase, according to Meadows.
Half of the people accounting for the increase have never been served at Shepherd's Staff before. The other half of the more than 900 people, according to Meadows, are those who have not sought assistance from the organization for at least five years.
"Apparently, these are people that were struggling at one time and needed assistance and they were able to get back on their feet," Meadows said. "But when the economy turned, it really hit people that were on the edge, they're having to come back in to get that boost again."
Although there are some, not all those being served by Shepherd's Staff are homeless or jobless. According to Meadows, many of their clients fall above the income level required to receive services elsewhere.
"We're seeing an increased number of working families," Meadows said. "These are families that are upside down on the mortgage, trying to make car payments, doing everything they can to keep their heads above water. But something like a hot water heater or car transmission going up can put them over the edge.
"Some of us don't realize how close we are to that downward spiral. Our goal is to help people keep their heads above water," Meadows said.
Shepherd's Staff board member Becki Maurio nominated the organization for the award in late March.
"When you put all they do against what their budget is for the year, it's amazing what they get accomplished," Maurio said.
Maurio, the Director of Adult Education at Carroll Community College, said that she often interacts with people who take advantage of the services offered at Shepherd's Staff.
"I got involved with this organization because many of the people I interact with in the community have taken advantage of the services offered at Shepherd's Staff," Maurio said. "I just have so much respect for the work they do to help so many people throughout the year."
Meadows said that Shepherd's Staff is a success story because the community has embraced it, supporting it with donations and volunteers.
"The community has stepped up to the plate. We have been able to serve the people that come through the doors because of the generosity of the people of Carroll County," Meadows said.
According to Meadows, Shepherd's Staff has one full-time and three part-time employees. Meadows estimated that there are 150 volunteers that the organization relies on throughout the year and about 15 who help out on a weekly basis.
Franchot said during his presentation that the state would never be able to pay for all the services provided by nonprofit organizations like Shepherd's Staff.
"I don't know what the state would do, we're already stretched financially," Franchot said. "How we could possibly pay for what Shepherd's Staff and other organizations like them do? How we could substitute for them? I have no idea.