Nine finalists competed in the second Changemaker Challenge on Monday night, pitching their ideas for social innovation in Howard County.
The event at the Kossiakoff Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, co-hosted by the Horizon Foundation and United Way of Central Maryland, brought ideas from the arts, environment, and health and social services to the same stage with contestants aiming to take home one of the four cash prizes in order to implement their ideas.
Three judges from the Horizon Foundation and United Way of Central Maryland judged the competition.
Orlando Goncalves and Alfred Striano of Upcycled, a new nonprofit in Howard County, took home the $25,000 first prize for their idea of repurposing structures from recycled goods.
“Funny enough, we heard about [the Changemaker Challenge] 48 hours before the application was due,” Striano said. “[Goncalves] had an idea to turn recycled plastic into items and materials, and then it kind of spawned from there with our manufacturer.”
Goncalves and Striano, who are both active outdoorsmen, spoke Monday about their frustration hiking through parks in Howard County and seeing trash littered throughout the areas. Those parks are the first places the partners would like to see their idea implemented.
They presented images of picnic tables and park benches made from recycled goods, and provided prototypes for the judges to see and feel what the products could look like.
According to Franklyn Baker, president and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland, the Changemaker Challenge requires a grassroots approach to address social issues in the county.
“This is what we need to do every single day — find ways that have not been thought of before to address some of the long-standing issues in our community,” Baker said. “True social change happens from the ground up. It really does happen when everyday, common people take interest in figuring out what their role might be and affecting change.”
Pamela Woolford, a Columbia resident, saw an issue in how Columbia’s history was being presented, so she pitched the idea to tell the story of black visionaries in the city and took home $10,000 for her idea.
“Columbia has a history that is told and retold, but it’s always told and retold in a very similar way with the same stories of the same individuals, and there’s so much missing. And I didn’t want it to die with the people that were no longer with us,” Woolford said.
She said she wants to ensure these local stories get passed on in a permanent form. Her plan is to add an in-depth section to her upcoming memoir to detail these stories.
The first Changemaker Challenge took place in 2017, with three winners each receiving $10,000 prizes. One of last year’s winners, SOBAR, an organization that creates non-alcoholic drinks for social events in Howard County, had a table serving drinks at this year’s event. While the challenge organizers have continued to monitor the work of their first grant recipients, they decided this year was the right time for round two of the competition.
Two of the winners this year focused on how to make Howard County safer and more accessible for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Dr. Leah Katherine Saal and Dr. Lisa Schoenbrodt, who won one of the $10,000 prizes, presented Strategic Training for Empathic Emergency Response, or STEER, a training idea to improve communication between those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and emergency medical services. They plan to implement the STEER trainings in Howard in January, directly involving those with disabilities and EMS.
“People with disabilities are five times more likely to come in contact with first responders, whether that’s police, firefighters or EMS,” Saal said. “We believe that building relationships between people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and first responders is one of the most impactful parts of this training. At the end of the day, first responders should be learning how to communicate and work with people with disabilities from people with disabilities.”
Trainees will learn techniques for safety and communication and practice those skills through role-play situations as part of the trainings.
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The $15,000 second-place winners were Liz Burrage and Bryan Sorrentino of The Arc of Howard County for their Community Accessibility with Dignity idea, which would install adult changing tables in public restrooms throughout the community.
According to Sorrentino, The Arc is dedicated to involving its participants in the community, but that’s made increasingly difficult when there aren’t appropriate restroom resources in the area.
“We’ve been out in the community with people who are in wheelchairs that need to be changed, but there’s nowhere to take them, so we’ve had to change them on the floor,” said Sorrentino, director of community integration services. “There’s no parent that would want to change their infant on a bathroom floor. It’s the same thing; the disabled population sometimes gets forgotten.”
The Arc hopes through the installation of the changing tables in the county those with disabilities will be able to stay out in the community for longer periods of time without worrying about where they can use the restroom.
“When we presented this pitch to the nine groups when we did our initial meeting, every one of them stopped and went, ‘Wow, I never even thought that was an issue. I never thought that was a problem,’ ” Sorrentino said.
“We walked into this saying, ‘We want to win,’ but at the end of the day if we don’t, at least we got a message out and we’ve started a dialogue. Sometimes starting that dialogue is how change can happen.”
The amount of prize money awarded to Pamela Woolford and The Arc Project was incorrect in a previous version of this article. The venue for the Changemaker Challenge was also spelled incorrectly. The article has been updated to reflect accurate information.