Past Winners


In November 2019, United Way of Central Maryland and the Horizon Foundation came together to award four winners a total of $60,000 at the 2019 Changemaker Challenge event. Selected from 56 applicants, nine finalists presented their big ideas for social change in Howard County to a live audience of 250 community members and a panel of judges. The four winners include Orlando Goncalves and Alfred Striano for their Upcycled Structures from Recycled Goods big idea ($25,000 grant), Liz Burrage, Colette Jackson and Bryan Sorrentino of The Arc of Howard County for their Community Accessibility with Dignity big idea ($15,000 grant), Drs. Leah Katherine Saal and Lisa Schoenbrodt for their STEER – Strategic Training for Empathic Emergency Response big idea ($10,000 grant) and Pamela Woolford for her Spreading the Word about Columbia’s Black Freedom Visionaries big idea ($10,000 grant).

“We were blown away by the ideas we received this year,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO, the Horizon Foundation. “The Changemaker Challenge showcases the power, creativity and energy of our community to address complex social problems. The breadth of challenges addressed, and the creativity used to address those challenges is inspiring. We are fortunate to have so many dedicated, enterprising individuals and nonprofits who truly care about social change and making our community a better place for everyone.”

“Despite all the strengths of the community in Howard County, we recognize that many pressing problems continue to persist,” said Franklyn Baker, president and CEO, United Way of Central Maryland. “Our data shows that one in four Howard County households can’t make ends meet and struggle with basic expenses like housing, food, and transportation.”

The other finalists were Danielle N. DuPuis with the Big Red Barn Environmental Education – Community Ecology Institute; Lucas de Melo and Patricia Silva with the Initiative for Latin American Community Engagement – InLACE; Gary Canteen and John Way with Mental Health First Aid and Narcan Training with a Focus on Veterans – VA Way; Claire Cohen, Dan Demmitt, Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Tracy Novak, Rachael Parran, Esther Tenaglio, and Kathy Wehr with Practical Skills Training for Caregivers – Howard County General Hospital; and Dr. Zaneb Khan Beams with Rubix Preventative Mental Health Program – Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center

Held for the second time since 2017, the Changemaker Challenge solicited ideas from Maryland residents to address a community need, and finalists pitched projects focused a diverse range of issues from environmental education and caregiver support to mental health and Latino community engagement.

“The Changemaker Challenge aligns so well with our goal of supporting grassroots leaders who want to drive positive change in their communities,” added Baker. “We celebrate the Changemaker Challenge winners, past and present, and all those who are sparking new ways of thinking in our communities.”

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United Way of Central Maryland CEO Franklyn Baker, 2017 Changemaker Challenge Winner Erin Cassell, 2017 Changemaker Challenge Winner Beth Sandbower Harbinson, 2017 Changemaker Challenge Winner Danielle Staton and Horizon Foundation CEO Nikki Highsmith Vernick


As the Horizon Foundation and United Way of Central Maryland prepare for their second Changemaker Challenge in November, many of the winners and finalists from the 2017 event are continuing to develop their innovative ideas into community action for social change.

From supporting recovery from alcoholism with healthy alternatives, to helping children from lower-income families access higher education and recreational sports opportunities, these inaugural changemakers are testament to the power of invention, dedication, and powerful results.

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2017 Changemaker Challenge winner Beth Sandbower Harbinson with SOBAR at events in Howard County

“I think anyone who has a yearning to
make a difference, and who has a good idea, should absolutely go for it, because there is no downside to this process,” suggested Beth Sandbower Harbinson of the Changemaker Challenge. “It forces you to reach inside of yourself, put everything down on paper, and bring your vision into focus.”

Beth was awarded one of three $10,000 Changemaker Challenge grants to help found SOBAR, a nonprofit organization which coordinates alcohol-free social gatherings, and creates healthy, creative non-alcoholic drinks for community social events in Howard County.

An experienced nonprofit executive and consultant, Beth has achieved what she proposed in 2017 and more: establishing SOBAR as a 501(c)3, appointing a board of directors, creating a brand and online presence, participating as a partner or vendor in community events throughout 2018, and creating a menu of innovative beverages. She is also excited about two exclusive SOBAR events in 2019 – including a New Year’s Eve party.

Answering Need with Creativity

Columbia business owner Erin Cassell was inspired to join the Changemaker Challenge when she noticed a troubling issue on her commute along Route 1 in Elkridge: more than two dozen bus stops without shelters, exposing the adults and children waiting there to bad weather and dangerous traffic conditions.

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2017 Changemaker Challenge winner Erin Cassell refurbishing bus stops along Route 1 in Howard County

Safe and Beautiful Bus Stops was her innovation response. Erin has worked closely with county transportation authorities and property owners in the area to refurbish an old bus shelter in a visible Route 1 location – complete with colorful mosaic tiles, a free little library, a painted rock and gnome garden, and a bench composed of recycled materials, all made by local artists or schoolchildren.

Erin hopes that this colorful bus stop, to be completed this fall, will not only provide a safe, comfortable, and fun environment for those who wait and ride buses, but will also help raise the awareness of the general public about the need for safe public transportation.

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2017 Changemaker Challenge winner Danielle Staton has made a difference the lives of high school students in Howard County through her College Readiness Communities program.

As the recipient of the third $10,000 grant, Danielle Staton is proud that her program, College Readiness Communities, assisted eight seniors from low-income backgrounds overcome various social and economic challenges become the first in their families to attend college, and hopefully have their best chance at success.

Danielle, a first-generation college graduate, provided comprehensive and ongoing guidance and support to the seniors for more than a year prior to their acceptance to college, focusing on issues such as financial aid, course selection, college selection, and SAT preparation.

Creating a National Model for Youth Sports

Another remarkable success story of the 2017 Changemaker Challenge has been Get on the Bus, the brainchild of Tim Ryerson, executive director of the Ellicott City Soccer Club. Get on the Bus removes the social and economic barriers that prevent some children from low-income Howard County families from participating in cost prohibitive youth soccer. The program provides transportation from selected Title 1 elementary schools to soccer fields, pays for all fees, provides uniforms and equipment, and provides healthy snacks for every child.

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2017 Changemaker Challenge winner Tim Ryerson works with kids in the community through his Get on the Bus program.

Although he did not win one of the three Changemaker Challenge grants, a video of Tim’s event presentation at the event garnered more than $12,000 in funding online from enthusiastic viewers. Moreover, several people in the more than 300-strong Changemaker Challenge audience were so intrigued by his ideas that they sought Tim out for partnerships afterward.

“The challenge launched my big idea into a nationally recognized program!” said Tim.  With the help of a recent $100,000 grant from the United States Soccer Federation, Get on the Bus now has grown into a national enterprise, with the goal of reaching more than 10,000 kids across the country by World Cup 2026.

“I am here to tell you anything is possible,” said Tim. “You have to organize, you have to believe, but most of all you have to put ideas into action.”