5 inductees into Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame share passion for bettering the lives around them
By Janene Holzberg
Baltimore Sun Media|
Mar 23, 2020 | 5:00 AM
Tackling opioid abuse, helping homeless students, advancing civil rights, serving constituents and paying it forward are just some of the ways they give back to society.
Though their causes may differ, the five women who will be inducted into the 2020 Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame share two signature traits: boundless passion and an unwavering commitment to bettering people’s lives.
Barbara Allen, Evelyn Darden, Lori Fuchs, State Del. Terri Hill and Tracey Williams will join the list of 110 women who have been honored by the Howard County Commission on Women since it launched its hall of fame in 1997.
The awards are normally presented each March to coincide with National Women’s History Month. The induction ceremony originally scheduled for March 26 has been postponed indefinitely due to the statewide ban on gatherings of more than 50 people to help inhibit the spread of the new coronavirus.
“We are in awe of this year’s Women’s Hall of Fame inductees,” commission Chair Kashonna Holland said. “The work they have done speaks volumes, as well as the character and grace by which they are widely known throughout our communities.”
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said of the five women, “Our communities are more empowered because of their dedicated service to others.”
‘There’s reason for hope’
Ellicott City resident Barbara Allen has served as chair of the Howard County Opioid Crisis Community Council since its founding in March 2018 and will continue in that role through December 2021.
Allen, 72, serves on 14 county and state coalitions dealing with drug- and health-related policymaking and treatment. She also operates James’ Place Inc., a nonprofit offering substance abuse addiction recovery services that she founded in honor of her son, who died at age 35 from a drug and alcohol overdose.
While she’s gratified that colleagues wrote letters recommending her for the honor, she finds “the experience to be bittersweet.”
“We’re making strides in educating residents and there’s reason for hope,” Allen said, noting overdose deaths have been trending downward for 18 months.
However, there’s been an increase in cocaine and methamphetamine use, she noted.
“The stuff on the street changes and we collectively have to keep our eyes open to trends” across the state and the country, Allen said. “This is our evolving reality; we can’t put something into place and think it will last for 10 years.”
Allen said the crisis community council is hoping to hold town meetings to discuss “everything we need to have in this county” to tackle opioid abuse.
“We haven’t solved all the problems,” she said. “But we’ve got our arms around the issue and are searching the country for robust solutions.”
Lengthy career in civil rights
Woodstock resident and attorney Evelyn Darden said she was “absolutely surprised and blown away” to be accepted this year into the Howard County and Maryland women’s halls of fame.
“I had no particular intention of going into civil rights law when I became the 11th African American woman admitted to the Maryland bar in 1976,” said Darden, 74.
However, she was confronted by racism in her career early on, she said.
“After I’d put out hundreds of resumes, I got a job offer to be a law clerk for someone who graduated from law school with me,” she said. “That was such an affront that I spoke with my longtime friend, the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, who recommended I apply for a job handling Title VII employment discrimination cases.”
His advice set her career in motion and she has never looked back.
“I was fortunate, and reflecting back on the early days of my career makes me so happy and grateful” for these recognitions, she said.
‘Doing what comes naturally’
Savage resident Lori Fuchs said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks drove home the fact that life is too short and motivated her to dedicate her life to volunteering.
“I’m tremendously honored [to be recognized] for doing what comes naturally,” said Fuchs, 60.
Since she only has daughters and sisters, Fuchs said, “I have a heart for women and girls, especially. But I feel for all kids in need in Howard County, where many people have plenty.”
Fuchs has made it a habit to routinely check websites in her community — such as the Community Action Council and area schools — and contribute her time whenever she sees a need.
She said she tries to limit herself to joining one or two boards these days to give herself time for outside interests.
“What I would hope is that people appreciate my lifetime of commitment to the community,” Hill said, highlighting her 30 years of mentoring students and her “availability to share advice.”
“I like to help people feel they’ve got skin in the game,” she said.
Ensuring social justice
Ellicott City resident Tracey Williams works closely with homeless families as a pupil personnel worker with the Howard County Public School System. She’s gratified that so many churches have been offering to help students who suffer from food insecurity.
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“It’s such an amazing thing to see people in the community come together,” said Williams, 54.
Outside of her career, one of the accomplishments Williams is most proud of is the expungement fair she helped organize in 2016 that served 500 people.
Expungement is the process of helping people clear their records of errors or mistakes they made when they were young that can prevent them from getting loans, housing or a job, she said.
“It’s a social justice issue,” she explained of the expungement fair held by the Iota Lambda Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., one that members hope to repeat in the fall or whenever public health restrictions will allow.