Legacy of Volunteerism

Wertheimer Fellows Make Frederick Special

By Tripp Laino | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 10.05.16 – Diversions, People & Places

When avid volunteer Janice Miller Wertheimer passed away, her legacy of supporting the community continued with much of her estate directed to The Community Foundation of Frederick County, which supports dozens of charities in the county, including the annual Wertheimer Fellow Awards.

Adult winners each receive $25,000 from the Wertheimer Endowment Fund, which they in turn give to either a fund within the Community Foundation or create a new organization to be the recipient of the money.

This year’s adult winners are Virginia “Ginny” Brace of Frederick and Leslie Ruby of Middletown. “Leslie and Ginny bubbled to the top because of the breadth and length of their volunteer service,” Elizabeth Y. Day, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, says. “It makes us want to recognize people like Leslie and Ginny because they often fly under the radar and really make Frederick County a great place to live.”

In 2012, a youth award was added for those under 18; those recipients give a $1,000 grant to the charity of their choice. While past years have had a single youth winner, this year’s strong nominees prompted a second to be chosen, with the honor going to Cristian Castillo, 12, and Caleb McNeil, 15, both of Frederick. “Oftentimes we hear that our younger generation coming up isn’t concerned about our community, or doesn’t support it through action in the social services,” Day says. “That’s really not true—both of [the youth winners] really embody that spirit.”

Caleb McNeil’s grant will go to the Frederick Rescue Mission, where he’s been volunteering for the last two summers as part of the Summer Enrichment program.

McNeil and other volunteers play games and teach children, including reviewing lessons learned during the previous school year or profiles of historical figures. “It’s fun teaching them,” Caleb says. “When they finally figure it out, it feels like you’ve done something important—it feels good.”

He was nominated by Teri Kwiatek, outreach coordinator for Frederick Rescue Mission, who noted the relationships Caleb formed with the students in the program, particularly kids with behavior issues. “He was a good example to the kids and they looked up to him and noted that he followed direction well,” Kwiatek says in her nomination. “I noticed on several occasions that he would step into hard situations with children who were being difficult and was able to coach them toward doing the right thing.”

No Walk in the Park

Six different people nominated Virginia “Ginny” Brace for her work founding Friends of Waterford Park. Since its inception in 2005, the group has helped clean up and maintain the park, located just next to Baker Park. “Friends of Waterford Park over the years has organized and rallied dozens of volunteers to plant trees, remove invasive species, create bird and butterfly habitats, and frankly make the park what it is today: an urban oasis,” Kelly Russell, a member of Frederick’s Board of Aldermen, wrote in her nomination form.

Brace says the community that has formed over the years of working with the group is her favorite part of being involved. “I love the small town feel I have gotten [through the group],” she says. “People constantly stop us in the park and tell us, ‘We love what you’re doing.’ … It’s really fun to be around people who just share an interest in doing something for the sake of making the area better. You end up being around like-minded people: they’re not looking for money, not looking for praise.”

Brace’s award money will be going to Friends of Waterford Park to help continue the group’s work toward maintaining the park.


Leslie Ruby jokes that she gets involved with too many volunteer opportunities because she says yes to everything. Ruby is a board member for Woman to Woman Mentoring, Inc., helping to create Pop Up Shops where women donated gently used clothing, which volunteers sorted and sold one day a month at Select Seconds, a used-clothing store on East Patrick Street run by the Frederick Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. The program eventually grew so popular that it relocated, shifting to new locations on a regular basis.

Ruby learned about social enterprise fundraising, where a nonprofit group essentially starts a small business, as part of her class with Leadership Frederick County. “The whole thing relies on everyone being happy,” she says.

“If I have a lot of clothes and I need room in my closet, I donate my clothes and somebody else gets to buy those clothes, and the money we raise goes back to Woman to Woman Mentoring.”

Ruby was nominated by the trio of Kathy Frawley, Tonya Hatosy-Steir and Peg Waxter, who wrote this of Ruby’s efforts: “It is Leslie’s endless energy [and] positive can-do attitude that has made the program flourish,” the nomination stated. “Her philosophy is that anything is possible and that together we can accomplish anything for the good of the program. She recruits and trains volunteers, gathers and sorts the donated clothing, markets the program, solicits partners, and is always seen at the pop up event welcoming the community and selling the clothes.”

Starting Early

Cristian Castillo is just 12 years old, but he’s been volunteering with Kids These Days, Inc., the group who will receive his award, for more than a year. “A friend of mine had been doing it, and I tried it and I loved it,” Cristian says. “We do a lot of different things. During the school year we volunteer at the food bank and make these things called backpacks for kids that don’t have food during the weekend, and during the summer we did a lot of outdoor stuff like cleaning out a creek.”

The Frederick-based organization finds volunteer opportunities for students between ages 11 and 21 with a variety of projects available. Kristy Hundley nominated Cristian for his work with the organization, rattling off a list of adjectives usually reserved for adults, like “determined, caring, hard-working, dependable [and] trustworthy” in her nomination form.

“Despite his young age, Cristian is always willing to take charge of a situation and help others accomplish the goal,” Hundley says. “Cristian is the most reliable volunteer, of any age, in our organization. He has surpassed any and all expectations at each and every volunteer event. Cristian enjoys helping others and is always first to volunteer to attend events and first to volunteer for any job at the events.”