The Community Foundation of Howard County presented the Casey and Pebble Willis Making a Difference Award to OhanaHC and the Leadership Council Award to Matthew Plantz

Community Foundation of Howard County presents two awards

The Community Foundation of Howard County, which raises, manages and distributes funds to support Howard County nonprofits, presented the Casey and Pebble Willis Making a Difference Award to OhanaHC and the Leadership Council Award to Matthew Plantz. The awards were presented at the foundation’s annual dinner and celebration of philanthropy held virtually Dec. 2.

OhanaHC was established in 2020 with a dual mission to both empower Howard County students to overcome barriers and achieve self-defined success and to build community by developing relationships between people outside expected social circles. The organization seeks to surround a student starting in ninth grade with a diverse group of four adults to form a unit called an “ohana,” which means family in Hawaiian. OhanaHC started with 10 freshmen last school year and has grown to 40 students and 160 volunteer mentors.

The Casey and Pebble Willis Making a Difference Award recognizes the program of a nonprofit organization in Howard County and includes a $3,000 award in support. Established in 2000, the award memorializes Carolyn “Casey” Willis, a community activist who lived in Howard County for 26 years, and her husband, Dr. Eugene “Pebble” Willis, an orthopedic surgeon.

Matthew Plantz serves on the board of Howard County Autism Society and participates on committees and a housing task force with the society. He volunteers for advocacy days in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., and presents about autism at schools and community organizations, adding his perspective as a person with disabilities.

The Leadership Council Award recognizes a 25- to 45-year-old individual who has shown leadership and commitment as a member of a nonprofit board in Howard County and includes a $1,000 award to support the recipient’s organization. The Community Foundation’s Leadership Council, comprised of the foundation’s past board chairs, established the award in 2008.

“Matthew believes strongly in being a self-advocate—and as a result of his passion and hard work, he is making lives better for everyone in Howard County who has autism,” said Peter Panepento, past chair of the Community Foundation board. “His energy is boundless, and those who know Matthew describe him as a person of great purpose and character—someone who uses his voice to help others.”

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Scott E

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