Howard County's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, established more than 30 years ago, will celebrate its first year as a permanent county commission, following legislation County Executive Allan Kittleman filed last year.
Since its founding in 1985, Kittleman said the holiday commission was re-authorized by Executive Order each year to honor the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King with a "Day of Service" as well as middle and high school student essay awards reflecting King's legacy. Kittleman filed legislation to the County Council in June to attain permanent status for the commission.
"It was my belief and also talking with the Office of Law that executive orders should not be used for things that are permanent," Kittleman said. "They should be used for things that are temporary," Kittleman said."We wanted to make this something that Howard County will always do because we see the value of the MLK Jr. Commission and the work they do for the community to educate and remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."
Commission chairwoman Roberta Kelly said the legislation did not change the commission's operation, but establishes membership and staffing, meeting requirements and purposes and responsibilities.
"It gives us the same rights that we had before," Kelly said. "It makes it more official."
"It also gave more of a chance for the entire government to be participating," Kittleman added. "I wanted to make sure that the members of the commission were seen as vital members of our community who are not only nominated by the county executive, but also approved by the County Council. It gives the commission more of a standing in our county government."
The commission will honor the civil rights leader's work on Sunday, Jan. 15 with the announcement of the 2016 "Living the Dream" award recipients and student essay contest winners.
The free celebration will begin at 2 p.m. with a reception, which will be followed by the program at 3 p.m. at Long Reach High School in Columbia. Attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable food item that will be donated to Howard County's Food Bank.
County officials announced Friday that this year's Living the Dream award will go to Grace Kanja for her volunteer and community service. Grace joined the Girl Scouts after moving from Kenya, where she met several friends and began volunteering at local animal shelters, churches, schools and hospitals. A co-founder of the UNICEF club at her high school, county officials said Grace is being recognized for her determination to support women and children in third world countries.
The Living the Dream award will also honor HopeWorks of Howard County for supporting survivors of sexual, dating and domestic violence.
Winners of the student essay contest will be announced later in the day, featuring essays by middle and high school students who write about their dreams to improve their communities and themselves. Middle school student recipients include first-place winner Shiva Sharma, eighth grade, Patuxent Valley Middle School; second-place winner Kristina Chao, sixth grade, Folly Quarter Middle School; and third-place Chloe McGeehan, seventh grade, Folly Quarter Middle School.
High school student recipients include first-place winner Rhiannon Fildebrandt, sophomore, Marriotts Ridge High School; second-place winner Blake Morris, senior, Mt. Hebron High School; and third-place winner Briscoe Turner, senior, Mt. Hebron High School.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 16, volunteer opportunities will be held throughout the county, including hands-only CPR and "Stop the Bleed" training, shelving food donations and assisting Days End Farm Horse Rescue. A kick-off celebration will be held at 8 a.m. at the Gateway Building, 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive in Columbia.
For a list of volunteer events and to sign up, go to volunteerhoward.org/hocomlkserve.