Maria Casasco, who has worked for more than a decade to improve the lives of the county's growing Hispanic population, received the President's Community Service award last night from Anne Arundel Community College's Board of Trustees.
Through her volunteer efforts and work as program director of the Hispanic Initiative - a component of the county Health Department - Casasco has spearheaded the development of educational, legal and social service programs for Spanish-speaking immigrants, college officials said.
The board presented her with the award, which recognizes county residents who contribute significantly to the quality of life in Anne Arundel County, during its meeting last night.
Casasco said earlier yesterday that she was "absolutely honored and thrilled."
Stephen F. Steele, a sociology professor at Anne Arundel Community College who nominated Casasco for the award, praised her dedication.
"I am moved by her steadfast commitment to ... a segment of the county's population who struggle against language and cultural barriers," Steele wrote in his nomination form.
Casasco, 50, has been instrumental in the growth of the Hispanic Initiative, created in 1992 to address the needs of the county's growing Spanish-speaking population, estimated to be about 20,000. In Annapolis, the community numbers about 5,000.
The Hispanic Initiative began with an emphasis on substance abuse prevention, and under Casasco's leadership has expanded to provide parenting classes, a Spanish-language hot line and citizenship education.
Casasco works out of a Health Department satellite office in the Allen Apartments in Annapolis, which houses the Hispanic Resource Center.
The center provides information and referrals for an array of services including health care, housing, legal help, language classes and employment.
The tenants association at the Allen Apartments - where nearly all of the residents are Spanish-speaking - also sponsors tutoring and mentoring programs for children in cooperation with the Naval Academy.
Casasco "is totally devoted to the betterment of the Hispanic community," said Rick Ferrell, president of the Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County. "I can't imagine someone giving more."
Casasco, a clinical psychologist, came to Annapolis from Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1988 with a background in education.
Unable to speak English, she said, she found "an American-Hispanic community without any kind of structure."
Twelve years later, she says, "people now know where to go for services, and they trust the community leaders."
Ferrell said that Casasco's most recent accomplishment is the creation of a program that offers classes in Spanish for women seeking a day care provider's license.
The 12-member class graduates on Friday, he said.