As executive director, Bonnie Elward did so much at Southern Maryland Community Resources that it’s no wonder her position was filled by two people after she stepped down on Sept. 30.
“That speaks volumes to what Bonnie was able to do on her own,” said SMCR vice chair Kristin Kauffman Beaver.
Elward, who founded the organization in July 2013, said she stepped down to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits.
“I’m overwhelmed and I’m very proud of the impact that was made,” said Elward, who lives in California. “Of course there were more things I wanted to do, but I think considering we started with nothing we did OK.”
Elward was celebrated by the organization in a farewell luncheon held at Kingfisher’s Restaurant in Solomons where she was presented with flowers and a plaque.
“My parting is a time-out and a reset to see what is essential for me in the future to be of further service to the community,” Elward said in a news release. “It’s been a wonderful seven years and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s really been a blessing to do this. SMCR will continue to serve our members and the community under new organization in these new and challenging times.”
“The word gratitude cannot possibly express the depth and breadth of what the board of directors feels toward Bonnie Elward,” stated a message from the board of directors. “Bonnie’s dedication to the members of SMCR has been unwavering for seven years. Her trust in providence and her own personal mission has brought SMCR to its current stature as a pillar in the community.”
Elward, a former hospice nurse, will give presentations to those affected by the coronavirus through her new company, H.H. Joy Enterprises LLC. The H’s stand for hope and healing.
“With COVID-19 we have absolutely no idea about how, when or where this is all going to end,” said Elward, who will offer agencies and their workers support systems and offer strategies with colleague Patty Stein, the director of Pure Play Every Day. “It’s a huge time of grief, loss and mourning for everybody.”
Elward’s position will be replaced by Sandy Norris, who is the community outreach coordinator, and program director Therese Thiedeman.
“[Elward] spoke with such love in her heart when she said, ‘Everyone is a member here. Speaking of someone as a member means they are included. They are part of something that makes them feel special. They are members of our SMCR family,” said Norris, who started volunteering with SMCR in 2017. “With that I knew I had come to a place that would forever feed my soul. All had differences in what their interests were but as time went by we understood their wants and created our events around their interests.”
“Currently, we’re running evening virtual programs all on Zoom and we welcome everyone to join us,” Thiedeman said. “We want our programs to be all-inclusive [to] community members with and without developmental disabilities.”
Elward was running a special needs ministry at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Leonardtown when the Potomac Community Resources and the Archdiocese of Washington wanted to begin the ministry in Southern Maryland; Elward was asked to be its executive director.
“There were a few part time [workers], but basically I was it,” Elward said of the new SMCR, which was funded through sponsorships by Catholic charities, the archdiocese and Potomac Community Resources. “They say God protects fools and angels, and I fall somewhere in the middle.”
Elward conceded the first couple years were difficult.
“I think people were concerned we were going into their territory or take their funding,” she said, “and I kept saying, ‘No.’ Collaboration to me is what we bring to the table, not what am I going to take away.”
Elward insisted that the focus of the SMCR is to be inclusion.
“I’ve always tried to look at SMCR as not only social and recreational, but being a bridge for people in the community to understand that people with developmental differences have the basic same needs as you and I do,” she said. “They just can’t express it as profound as others, but the needs are there.”
SMCR also developed an Art to Heart program at St. Mary’s Ryken High School, which was named ‘Most Innovative Program’ by the St. Mary’s County Commission for persons with disabilities.
In addition, SMCR also holds an exercise program and a cooking class, as well as movie, bowling and game nights.
Elward said she experienced a range of emotions on Sept. 30, her first day post-SMCR.
“Of course there’s that anticipatory grief so there’s that in the back of your mind,” she said. “I felt very grateful that I had these seven years of being able to work with the community and that I had grown both personally and professionally in that time. The gift for me was that in this process I’m stepping down but I’m not retiring because I feel that God’s given me a lot of gifts and skills that he still wants me to use.”