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Howard County Changemaker Challenge encourages residents to make a difference in the community

Beth Harbinson’s hands were shaking when she accepted the $10,000 check for being one of three winners in the first Howard County Changemaker Challenge in 2017.

Her idea to create Sobar, a nonprofit offering healthy nonalcoholic beverages, was deemed a good one and would become a reality. Today, Harbinson’s Sobar can be found at numerous events throughout the county and hosts its own events, too, including a New Year’s Eve party.

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“It was very exciting,” Harbinson said. “Getting that seed money enabled us to develop an inventory with equipment we needed.”

She is quick to add, though, that she would have been a winner even if she hadn’t won the challenge.

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“Going through the process of applying for this is going to give you the tools you need to launch your idea,” Harbinson said. “The Changemaker Challenge really helps you put a blueprint or structure around your idea that is very valuable.”

Supported by the Horizon Foundation, United Way of Central Maryland, Women’s Giving Circle and Community Foundation of Howard County, the biennial Changemaker Challenge encourages participants to submit big, innovative and creative ideas that will make a difference in the community, according to Franklyn Baker, president and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland.

“It is an exciting opportunity to share ideas with an audience, the panel and with folks who can really benefit,” Baker said. “We are hoping to heighten the sense of need to do something.”

The theme of this year’s Changemaker Challenge is: “Innovate. Cultivate. Uplift.”

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While all ideas are welcome, Baker hopes participants consider social issues such as expanding equity, stable housing, mental health, expanding digital access, early childhood care, transportation, etc., and what can be done.

“After 18 months of COVID,” Baker said, “opportunities are really there for people to find creative ways to bolster things,” Baker said.

Past winning ideas have included establishing an early college readiness program for Howard County students and repurposing structures from recycled goods.

The contest is open to Maryland residents who are 18 or older as of July 1, and previous Changemaker Challenge applicants, finalists and winners are eligible to apply again.

Ideas should be 100 words or less. Participants will also have to answer questions, including how they would spend up to $25,000 to bring their idea to life and what their plan is to develop, promote and implement the idea. Pitches will be accepted online at changemakerchallengehc.org through Aug. 29.

Finalists will attend two mandatory in-person sessions, as well as two mandatory in-person filming sessions. On Nov. 9, finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.

One $25,000 grant, one $15,000 grant and two $10,000 grants will be awarded.

The success of the Changemaker Challenge in Howard County has led to the expansion of the program into other areas, Baker said, including Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, and Baltimore City.

“The main idea is the same,” Baker said. “They are not exact.”

Harbinson promotes the challenge whenever she can.

“What problem do you want to solve and how are you going to go about it?” Harbinson said. “It really did launch the nonprofit I started.”

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