ANNAPOLIS — In 1994 when Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed an executive order designating a “rural development council” for Maryland, he had no way of knowing he would set in motion the formation of a new institution that would touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, a news release states, not just in rural Maryland, but in every corner of the state.
The following year, the council organized itself as the “FORVM for Rural Maryland” and was permanently established by an act of the state legislature, adopted by a unanimous vote of both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. The Roman word “forvm” distinguished its mission, the release states, to provide a place for local and state leaders to exchange ideas and pursue solutions to the issues facing Maryland’s rural communities.
Today — 25 years later — re-named the Rural Maryland Council, it continues champion the causes of rural Marylanders while emphasizing the importance of working with suburban and urban communities to create a stronger, united Maryland, the release states.
“It’s true that our rural communities are faced with challenges that need to be resolved differently from our suburban and urban counterparts,” said Charlotte L. Davis, RMC executive director. “But when you really get down to it there is more that we have in common than what separates us.”
From the beginning the RMC has remained steadfast in problem-solving using two tools: giving voice to rural Marylanders and creating partnerships, the release states.
Through its work, the RMC created the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund, which to date has funded more than $5.8 million in grants.
It established the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore, the Mid Shore Regional Council and the Maryland Agricultural and Resource Based Industry Development Corp.
The RMC also established the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund in 2006 and waging a decade-long battle to get it funded, which finally came in 2016. To date it has funded more than $14 million in grants.
As part of its efforts to address broadband access, Davis was tapped by the Maryland legislature to head the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service.
In 2019 when Partners for Rural America bestowed the Ron Shaffer Award to Davis. The award acknowledges an individual who excels in building a national and state rural development partnership, the release states.
Perhaps the best appraisal of an organization’s success is whether it measures up to its founders’ expectations, the release states.
“When I founded the organization with Bill Walker 25 years ago, and drafted the State legislation that established the FORVM for Rural Maryland, we hoped it would continue to be a powerful voice for Maryland’s rural communities for many years to come,” said Gary V. Hodge, founding chairman of the FORVM. “As is always true, the effectiveness of an institution depends on the ability and commitment of the people who lead it and support its mission.”
For 25 years and counting, the release states, the Rural Maryland Council has answered that call.
“Although much has changed since the creation of the Rural Maryland Council, we remain dedicated to the core values of preserving rural heritage, advocating for equity, and engaging partners and stakeholders to help build strong, resilient rural communities,” said John Hartline, RMC chairman.
The Rural Maryland Council operates under the direction of a 40-member executive board. It serves as the state’s federally designated rural development council and functions as a voice for rural Maryland, advocating for rural communities and businesses across the state to help them flourish and achieve equity with their suburban and urban counterparts.