Dorchester community members 'Rise Up' to face COVID

Rising Up Award recipients, from left: Mike Starling, WHCP Community Radio; Chris Agharabi, Ava’s Pizzeria and Theo’s; Roger Harrell and Angela Grove, Dorchester County Health Department; and Miriam Moran, artist.

CAMBRIDGE — The artist who designed Cambridge’s Black Lives Matter mural, a local radio station that created new programming to provide timely and accurate information, a restaurant owner who developed a program to help struggling restaurants while bolstering the spirit of front line workers, and a government agency that partnered with other organizations to deliver health solutions all were honored on Nov. 12 for their roles in helping to address the challenges of a deadly pandemic and societal unrest in 2020.

The Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area and the Dorchester Business Resource Group created the inaugural Rising Up Awards to celebrate the extraordinary programs, projects and ideas that have served to aid, enrich and inspire the Dorchester community during a year of unprecedented turmoil.

“The year 2020 has been like no other and has presented our community and the world with significant challenges,” said Bill Christopher, executive director of the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Business Resource Group. “We worked together with the Heritage Area to create these awards to celebrate those who have responded to the upheaval of 2020 with innovation, creativity and compassion.”

“Our honorees clearly reflect this year’s theme, ‘Rising Up,’” said Midge Ingersoll, chair of the Heritage Area Board of Directors. “We were awed by their creativity, selflessness and unwavering determination as they worked behind the scenes in so many ways to support our community this year. These unsung heroes clearly exemplify all that is best in Dorchester County.”

The Rising Up Award winners were announced in a public presentation live-streamed by WHCP Community Radio. During the program, the recipients also received citations from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and State Sen. Addie Eckardt. The four awardees are:

Heritage Individual Achievement

Miriam Moran – for distinguished achievement in interpreting and promoting local heritage and culture in response to national societal unrest.

Moran uses her gifts to bring unity and always is there for other organizations of the Eastern Shore, including Alpha Genesis, the Dorchester Center of the Arts and more. During the height of the civil unrest sweeping the country, Moran’s art brought together a diverse group of volunteers in Dorchester County. Working together with her, they painted the moving “Black Lives Matter” mural on Race Street in Downtown Cambridge. Her mural promotes unity and honors the heritage of Dorchester County by incorporating images of Harriet Tubman, Gloria Richardson, Frederick Douglass and Victoria Jackson-Stanley, as well as representations of Pine Street’s jazz history and Maryland’s flag. In her nomination, it was noted that “She has a golden heart and … is a humble soul.”

Heritage Organizational Excellence

WHCP Community Radio – for distinguished achievement in supporting the local heritage community in response to COVID-19 and societal unrest.

WHCP Community Radio is a dynamic community presence, inspiring Dorchester County residents and visitors far and wide. This year, especially, they stepped up to be a much-needed community leader in many other areas. Their proactive projects addressed the pandemic and social issues of 2020. Early into the pandemic, they saw and acted on the need for timely, accurate information by creating their live Community Conversations, which air on Facebook and YouTube. These shows have included health experts, candidate forums, local policing and more. And they have continued to support heritage events, for instance, live streaming the Day of Resilience commemoration and unveiling of the Harriet Tubman sculpture in September. Their passion and can-do spirit really do contribute to making this place – as their tagline goes – “a great place to be.”

Business Innovation Award

Chris Agharabi – for significant achievement initiating innovative solutions to address issues faced by businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Agharabi is the owner of Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar and Theo’s Steakhouse. At the peak of the COVID shutdown, Agharabi knew something had to be done to help struggling restaurants and to bolster the spirit of the front line workers. The concept was quite simple: raise funds to pay local restaurants to feed local front line workers. Agharabi rallied several organizations. Through the partnerships, he was able to form with Mid-Shore Community Foundation, Talbot Economic development and the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, he was able to guarantee every dollar donated was actually used to pay for food for frontline workers. More than $30,000 was raised and put directly into local restaurants. More than 40 restaurants benefited from the program, and more than 2,000 front line meals were provided.

Business Partnership Award

Dorchester County Health Department – for significant achievement in partnering to deliver solutions for the betterment of Dorchester County in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health department partnered with multiple organizations during the pandemic to minimize the impact on the Dorchester County. Many say it is their job to handle pandemics and that may well be true, but they handled it much better than many of the surrounding counties. They were able to accomplish this by partnering with other organizations in Dorchester County, including the Chamber of Commerce, City of Cambridge and Dorchester Goes Purple. Together, they delivered solutions, not just enforcement. Their work served the community in a very turbulent time. Lives and jobs were saved because of the way in which the Dorchester County Health Department handled the crisis.

The Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, one of 13 certified heritage areas in the State of Maryland, leverages public and private partnerships to stimulate economic development through heritage tourism. The Heritage Area works to improve lives, protect places and cultivate community by maximizing the economic, environmental, cultural and recreational opportunities and benefits of heritage tourism in Dorchester County.

The Business Resource Group is made up of representatives from Dorchester County Economic Development, Dorchester County Tourism, Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, City of Cambridge Economic Development, Downtown Cambridge, and the Small Business Development Center. The group is unified to use their combined resources to assist businesses in their community.

For more than 15 years, the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area has held annual heritage awards, honoring community partners in public receptions. But this year was a little different, said Ingersoll.

“This year, our Heritage Board knew that the awards would need to reflect the times we live in,” Ingersoll said. “We still are celebrating the individuals and organizations that have helped to preserve and promote Dorchester County’s unique cultural, historical and natural resources. But this year, we recognized that so many of our heritage partners were confronted with unprecedented struggles and challenges due to the pandemic and to societal unrest. Yet, they rose to the occasion.

“We also knew that there were so many other organizations and businesses in our community that also rose to the occasion and had done the very same thing in their own fields. So, we were especially pleased to partner with the Business Resource Group and develop these new awards for 2020.”

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