The new 8 1/2 -by-11-inch glass award sitting on a coffee table in Jean Elizabeth Warrick Toomer's Wilde Lake home reflects the way she has lived her life.
"It [the award] really is just all of the work she has done over 20-plus years, just working for peace and justice," said Stephanie Sites, executive director for the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County. "Jean's real. She's a real person. She is what she believes and she lives it."
Mrs. Toomer received the center's first Community Spirit Award last month for her work in reducing the rate of violence in Howard County.
The new award recognizes women in the community who work to alleviate domestic violence. It will be given in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"Jean Toomer seemed to be a logical choice for the award," Ms. Sites said. "She's been a community activist since, forever, and she's done it in so many realms."
"I was pleasantly surprised," Mrs. Toomer said, nodding to the award sitting on her coffee table along with cards and flowers from her husband, Clarence.
October was a big month for Ms. Toomer. She also was named one of Maryland's "Most Beautiful People" for her volunteer work.
Although she formally retired in 1990, Mrs. Toomer keeps busy as the chairwoman of the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center, which was established last year to supply a network of trained volunteer conflict mediators.
The Howard Community College-based center offers classes and seminars in conflict resolution, prejudice and social and racial sensitivity.
Teaching families the skills to deal with conflict makes a big difference, Ms. Sites said. Mediation and conflict resolution are vital in stopping the cycle of domestic violence, she said.
"Children that are exposed to violence, grow up to be violent," Mrs. Toomer said.
In Howard County, 142 women and children received shelter at the center during fiscal 1994, up from 90 last year. Because of education and the publicity of the O. J. Simpson case, more abused women are now willing to seek help, Ms. Sites said. "People are getting the message: 'No, I'm not the only one. There is help out there,' " she said.
Violence is not the only issue, Mrs. Toomer addresses, however.
Mrs. Toomer took $5,000 of her own money and established Community Building in Howard County Inc. in 1989. The nonprofit human rights organization addresses concerns about ethnic and cultural diversity.
Born 65 years ago in Savannah, Ga., Mrs. Toomer attended boarding school in North Carolina. Later, she earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Howard University in Washington.
While in Washington, she married Clarence Toomer 44 years ago. The couple has three children, including twins. The family settled in Columbia 25 years ago.
During her early days here, Mrs. Toomer worked for the Columbia Association and became president of the Family Life Center.
She also spent 11 years as the administrator of the county's Office of Human Rights.
Mrs. Toomer said she performs community work to foster peace and justice -- two things she said society needs.
"True peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice and brotherhood," she said," quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.