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Howard County is one of 4 nationwide winners of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a New Jersey-based philanthropy dedicated to health, announced Tuesday that Howard County was one of four nationwide winners of its 2021 Culture of Health Prize.

“This is very exciting,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said. “I’m thrilled with what this says about our partnerships in the community and the work we have done.”


The $25,000 award recognizes communities for working at advancing health, opportunity and equity for all, according to the foundation’s website. In its application, the county focused on the Community Ecology Institute farm in Columbia, a nonprofit with a mission to enhance community health and well-being, according to its website.

“This farm is a great example of how we are doing that here in Howard County,” Ball said. “All walks of life … everyone comes together working the soil.”


In the county’s video submission, Erica Jones, an institute board member and Howard County NAACP partner, explains how the farm is what Howard County “strives to be,” a diverse community where “every single ethnicity, race and culture are represented” with everyone trying to live lives that are “healthy, vibrant and thriving.”

The farm’s partnerships with others, including the NAACP and Columbia Community Care, a grassroots group formed by a Wilde Lake High School teacher to help those struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, were also highlighted in the video.

“Howard County could be the model for the nation,” says Daniel Burns, president of Equity4HC — the fiscal sponsor for Columbia Community Care — in the video, as he explains how collaborations, cooperations and partnerships show how “people … do care about each other.”

The $25,000 award will be given to the Community Ecology Institute farm, Ball said.

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“We celebrate Howard County’s RWJF Culture of Health Prize award, knowing how important it is that our community works together to honor and celebrate human diversity, the natural environment and each person’s need to feel supported by and connected to the place they call home,” Chiara D’Amore, executive director of the Community Ecology Institute, wrote in an email.

“Through our collective and collaborative actions, we are enhancing and expanding the dream of Columbia’s founder, James Rouse, that a community can be ‘a garden for the growing of people.’ ”

The county has applied for the award in the past, staff said, though it never advanced to the finalist stage. The extensive application process required the county to meet six criteria:

  • Define health in the broadest possible terms
  • Commit to sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented, long-term solutions
  • Create conditions that give everyone a fair and just opportunity to reach their best possible health
  • Maximize the collective power of leaders, partners and community members
  • Secure and make the most of available resources
  • Measure and share progress and results

Howard County was named one of nine finalists in May, as was Anne Arundel County, the only other Maryland jurisdiction. The other seven finalists were Freehold Borough, New Jersey; Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Bastrop County, Texas; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Palm Beach County, Florida; Salinas, California; and the Thunder Valley Community within the Oglala Lakota Nation (Oceti Sakowin Territory).


The nine finalists were then required to create virtual conversations with community leaders, residents and representatives. In its video, the county features Nikki Highsmith-Vernick, CEO and president of Horizon Foundation; Felicita Sola-Carter, chair of Howard Community College’s board of trustees; Denise Boston, the county’s equity and restorative practices manager; and Jackie Scott, the county’s Department of Community Resources and Services director, talking about why Howard County is special, highlighting its diversity, concerns and values.

Palm Beach County, Rocky Mount and Thunder Valley Community are the other 2021 winners.

The foundation will honor this year’s winners during a virtual prize celebration and learning event on Nov. 9-10.