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County Executive Olszewski announces inaugural ‘Community Heroes’ award winners

TOWSON, MD—Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski on Tuesday announced the awardees of Baltimore County’s inaugural Community Heroes Awards, recognizing seven individuals from across the County who have made significant and meaningful contributions to their communities.

“At the center of Baltimore County’s network of strong, vibrant communities are dedicated individuals who commit their free time to advocating for their neighbors and neighborhoods,” said Olszewski. “We are proud to honor these exceptional community heroes whose selfless work positively impacts our residents and makes Baltimore County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

The inaugural Community Heroes Awards recipients are:

District 1: Otis Collins, Halethorpe
Described as having a “heart for service,” Collins has dedicated his life to serving individuals, organizations and communities. President of the Halethorpe Civic League for the past 15 years, Mr. Collins also serves on the Baltimore County Ethics Commission; as president of the Wilkens Police and Community Relations Organization; chairman of the Board of the HUD Federal Credit Union; president of Kittrell College National Alumni Association and board member at the People for Change Coalition.

District 2: Dawn Seestedt, Gywnn Oak
A “remarkable community leader who raises awareness about her community’s history and legacy,” Seestedt co-chairs two work groups on the Dementia Friendly Baltimore County’s community leadership team; Neighborhoods and Parks and Recreation. She advocates for accessibility in parks and outdoor spaces for vulnerable residents, created “Your Nana Next Door,” which brings older adults suffering from dementia to greet children at local school bus stops and organized the Gwynn Oak Mosaic Project & Unity Festival celebrating the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Park.

District 3: Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Towson
An “amazing advocate for students living in poverty in Baltimore County,” Taylor-Mitchell in 2015 created a 501-C3 nonprofit organization to provide vulnerable students at Loch Raven High School with the essentials they need to prepare them for a successful academic year. The program — now called the Student Support Network — was quickly expanded and currently serves 21 schools, providing supplies, emergency funding for families in need, and ongoing advocacy on behalf of those facing food insecurity.

District 4: Anie Polastre, Owings Mills
A “pillar of the Owings Mills New Town Association,” Polastre is active in the Owings Mills community and as Board president contributed to various successes including the Owings Mills New Town Jazz and Wine Festival and National Night Out. An active committee member of Boy Scouts Troop 634, she also serves as a liaison between New Town residents and the County Council, she helps residents resolve community concerns, advocates for those in need and has arranged community beautification projects.

District 5: Julie Gaynor, Middle River
Gaynor served more than 40 years as a teacher for students with visual impairments at the Maryland School for the Blind and Baltimore County Public Schools. Now retired, she mentors students and is actively involved with “Space Camp for Visually Impaired Students” and the national Braille Challenge. A longtime Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce member, Gaynor has spent “countless hours” supporting the Chamber’s Annual Secret Santa and Christmas Angels project for underprivileged students is co-chair of its Workforce Development Committee. Gaynor also serves on the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities and is an active member of the Wilson Point Civic Community Association.

District 6: Noel Acton, Parkville
Focused on getting kids off the street and into sports programs, Noel and his team provide all levels of assistance including equipment, transportation, and meals to help the kids be active and engaged. The Foundation also runs the Baltimore Banners and Junior Banners hockey teams, a safe space for at-risk youth to not only increase their chances of survival, but to become a positive influence in their community. Noel was the winner of the NHL’s 2022 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, and has been featured in The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Magazine, on and in The New York Times for his efforts.

District 7: Cliff O’Connell, Essex
Described as “an incredibly humble, kind, generous and caring person who is passionate about his community,” O’Connell helped spearhead the effort to revitalize Essex by boarding up and cleaning up vacant properties; fighting for and securing a rat control and treatment pilot program with Baltimore County; serving on the County’s Code Enforcement Improvement Work Group and working with Code Enforcement to eliminate graffiti, trash and overgrowth in neighborhoods. Advocating for those in need, he volunteers at local schools and supports community charities and fundraising efforts.

The winners announced on Tuesday will be recognized at Baltimore County’s second annual Community Leaders Summit on September 28, 2023.

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