Black History Month began in 1926. It was created by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. In 1976, it became a month-long celebration. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
The Black Leadership Council for Excellence (BLCE) exemplifies the qualities and accomplishments that Woodson sought to celebrate. The mission of the BLCE is to empower youth and community organizations by providing programs and technical assistance in the area of careers, arts, and civic participation.This is accomplished by developing youth leadership skills, career awareness, and appreciation of the arts. Programs address issues of healthy living with a focus on good nutrition combined with adequate exercise. In addition, the youth programs focus on entrepreneurship and environmental issues.
Both STEM activities and the Arts are cornerstones of the organization. Minorities are underrepresented in STEM fields overall, including chemistry, engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, and computer science. BLCE encourages and motivates youth to pursue STEM careers.
A focus on environmental stewardship is exemplified in the revival gardens. There are three areas of concentration including Demonstration Projects, Science Garden Labs, and Restoration Projects.
The Demonstration Garden not only provides an outdoor learning site but also acts as a community garden to create a source for fresh vegetables and enhance food security for students and the larger community. An offshoot of the demonstration garden is the Chefs in the Garden series of special cooking demonstrations in Southern Maryland. The youth from Nature's Revival Gardens team up with top chefs to create delicious meals with ingredients from the Demonstration Gardens.
The Interactive Science Garden provides hands-on opportunities to learn the chemistry of composting and the importance of solar energy.
The Restoration Gardens involve wetlands and forest trails restoration. The restoration includes the removal of invasive plants and replacement with native plants as well as clearing debris and creating a natural walking/running trail area.
The goal of the Expanding Horizons after-school program is to increase the number of youth musicians and performance artists who incorporate folk and traditional genres of African American music and dance forms into their contemporary performances.
BLCE is an organization that has been in Charles County, Maryland for over 20 years. Its scope has been wide-ranging and impactful. Funding, technical assistance, in-kind and/or materials donations from individuals and companies help sustain the valuable programs for the youth of Charles County.
St. Mary’s Caring soup kitchen provides free breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday serving those in need with dignity and love.
We don’t need a report to tell us that there are children and adults in Southern Maryland who are hungry. At St. Mary’s Caring in Lexington Park, we see it every day as individuals line up for a free meal at the only full-time soup kitchen in the tri-county area. In 2016, we served 32,206 meals.
For more than 20 years, St. Mary’s Caring has been a safety net for the hungry. Originally, it was called Mary’s Song which was started in 1995 by two Roman Catholic nuns. The nuns served food from the back of a station wagon to those in need before opening a soup kitchen on Coral Place, across from the Lexington Park Post Office. After three years, the nuns moved on and turned the assets over to the late Dana McGarity who formed St. Mary’s Caring. We are now located at 20850 Langley Rd., at the western end of Great Mills Road.
The primary mission of St. Mary’s Caring is to serve free breakfast and lunch, six days a week, however, our programs do not end there. Eight years ago, the Feed the Families program was initiated at Lexington Park Elementary School. St. Mary’s Caring buys weekly groceries for 10 families who have been deemed by school principals as the “neediest of the needy.” These are families who have children in the Free and Reduced Meal Program during the school year, but during summer break would be in jeopardy of not having more than a handful of meals each week. Three years ago, the soup kitchen added 10 more families at G.W. Carver Elementary, and this summer Park Hall Elementary will be included in the program.
Another initiative aimed at helping fill the food gap during summer break are the Summer Shine Dinners which are served every Monday and Thursday night. While it targets families, anyone in need is welcome.
At Thanksgiving, St. Mary’s Caring also provides 100 baskets filled with everything needed to cook a hearty Thanksgiving meal.
With a paid staff of only two part-time personnel, our programs require a large number of volunteers to make them work. In addition, with no major funding we depend on the generosity of our community, which has really stepped up to the plate to make this organization a success.
“Everyone deserves the right to eat. It’s a basic necessity no matter where you may be in life,” said Kristine Millen. Executive Director. “But as a team at St. Mary’s Caring, we not only provide food for survival, we want everyone to feel as if they have value. When they enter our doors, we go the extra mile to make it a safe-haven where they feel true friendship.”