OCEAN CITY – On Tuesday, Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) led a public service project at Diakonia, a shelter and emergency food services organization based in West Ocean City.
Upon arrival Volunteer Organizer at Diakonia Susan Blaney with Program Coordinator Laura Rosenfeld at her side gave Mizeur, who has been contemplating a run at governor, her campaign staff, Salisbury City Councilwoman Laura Mitchell, College Park City Councilman Patrick Wojahn, along with a handful of other volunteers, a tour of Diakonia’s facilities.
For those who are in danger of becoming homeless, Diakonia offers counseling, guidance and assistance in accessing a wide variety of support programs and, where necessary and appropriate, financial assistance for certain housing-related costs.
For those homeless, Diakonia offers a roof over their heads and much more, including counseling and support in addressing the issues that contributed to homelessness in the first place. The total overnight capacity of the two buildings is between 35 and 45 people. The configuration varies depending on the number of families, men and women in residence.
For those who are ready to leave Diakonia and move to permanent housing, Diakonia provides assistance and support in making the transition.
Diakonia operates a food pantry, which provides food assistance to hundreds of needy families every month. The food pantry program also helps Diakonia maintain contact with its “graduates” and ensure that they continue to have access to the counseling and support they need.
Diakonia also operates a thrift shop where volunteers merchandise and sell in-kind donations received that cannot be used in operations. Proceeds from the thrift shop contribute substantially to daily operations.
Diakonia receives support from individuals, local civic organizations, churches, foundations and the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore as well as from the state and local governments.
Following a tour, Mizeur and others volunteered their time by stocking the food pantry, preparing meals for hundreds of needy families and other household chores.
While standing at the sink washing lettuce, Mizeur took the time to speak with The Dispatch over her passion in being involved with the community.
Mizeur was in Ocean City this week to attend the Maryland Municipal League (MML) Conference that takes place in the resort on an annual basis.
“While I have been a delegate, I come out here to interact with other elected officials on our role with decisions we make on a state level and be hands on with the localities talking about best practices and models at work, and learning not only about problems and concerns and how the state can be a better ally but learning about best practices from a local perspective,” she said. “Part of the reason we are here at Diakonia … I believe in coming and giving something back to the community, and I have always been about a life of service. As I have been exploring this race for governor, a constant theme for me is bringing people together to address community needs and wants … working with non-profits and doing community work. As people are getting excited about me and my race to be a potential candidate in this campaign, I want to take their energy and excitement and make it a movement towards social transformation in both policy at the state level but also rolling up our sleeves with the community and dedicating ourselves to do more community service.”
Mizeur was impressed with Diakonia, as she explained a feeling had come over her where she felt connected to a spirit of giving.
“People who are working here are giving so much of themselves, their talent and their service to help the most vulnerable in our community to succeed and give a new chance at a different life,” she said. “To take that spirit … with us in what we do moving forward is how you grow that connection, and try to do what we can to get out the word.”
Mizeur was disappointed when Blaney explained the funding Diakonia received this year from the federal government has been decreased, ultimately lowering the usual annual budget for food from $2,500 to $1,800.
“You already wonder how they can do it on $2,500, and further raising the awareness and a profile like a great organization like this will hopefully create additional opportunities for more volunteers, contributions and support from both private and public sources,” Mizeur said. “There is a challenge in the toughest of times where local resources become restrictive when the need is the most in demand, and those work at odds with each other. That is critically important for us when we are making budgeting decisions about programs for people in the community.”
Before running for public office, Mizeur spent four years in AmeriCorps assisting at-risk youth, and performed public health work on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. As a Delegate, she fought to strengthen educational assistance grants for Segal AmeriCorps members.
“I have a strong connection to a social justice calling that we have to feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, and any privilege we have today can be gone tomorrow. We have to be focused on linking together strong communities that take care of each other’s most basic needs,” Mizeur said.