For 29 years, the Rev. Helen Samuels has provided meals, clothing and toys for the needy in her Park Heights neighborhood, never thinking much about awards, or the spotlight.
Yesterday, Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the Baltimore City Commission gave Samuels and 14 other black women community service awards during a ceremony at Sojourner-Douglass College.
"While the nation is celebrating Black History Month, I believe it is also appropriate to celebrate the achievements of these outstanding women whose contributions to our neighborhoods and our city are invaluable," Schmoke said, adding:
"These citations represent a lot of contributions small and large. But all of these go to enriching our community."
Several women said they were surprised to learn that their work would be honored.
"I couldn't believe it," Samuels said. "I never think much about awards. I just think about helping people."
Samuels and her assistants provide meals and clothing to Park Heights residents. At Christmas, they provide clothing, food and toys for 500 children.
An associate minister at Gillis Memorial Christ Community Church and a radio show host on WJRO-AM, Samuels said Park Heights was a different place 29 years ago when she began her work. Now, it is crime-ridden and drug-infested and seems to get worse as time goes on, she says, "but I've got to keep on working."
Salonia Cook, another award recipient, leads a park-maintenance program for the Hose's Heights Community Association. She received wide attention for a protest against the building of a shopping center that residents said would increase noise, traffic and crime.
"But the millionaires won," Cook said, adding that the shopping center will be built. Now she leads a crusade to have noise walls built to keep out sounds from the facility's air conditioning units.
Of yesterday's honor, Cook said, "I was very happy, but surprised. Who thinks they're going to do anything at all that would make them worthy of a citation from the mayor?"
The 13 other award winners are: Rivanna Foster, Joi Griffin, Tonise Hopkins, Thelma Jackson, Gwendolyn Johnson, Peggy Johnson, Carolyn Massey, Ruby Rice, Vernia Rice, Chartruse Robinson, Beatrice Sydnor, Arlene B. Tate and the Rev. Roslyn Ushery.