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Awards ceremony honors disabled, employers and activists


Amy Herstein has entertained thoughts of opening her own bakery when she graduates from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"I like making pastries," she said. Asked about her best-made treat, Herstein smiled and modestly declined to choose one.

"I don't think that is for me to judge," she said. "I'm big on desserts, and I like bread, too."

Herstein, an 18-year-old freshman, has been blind since birth but hasn't allowed the disability to limit her spirit or cloud her dreams.

"I think for anybody, take what you have and enjoy it, and whatever you want to do, you can do it if you try," Herstein said.

Her determination and desire to give back to the community are among the reasons why she was honored yesterday at the 11th annual Howard County Commission on Disabilities Awards breakfast at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville.

The ceremony celebrates county residents with disabilities, their employers, advocates and service providers. Winners were nominated by citizens and voted by the county's commission on disabilities.

Herstein received the youth award - one of the six presented - and the surprise and smile had yet to dissipate as she spoke after the ceremony.

"I was a bit surprised," Herstein said, remembering the phone call she received from her family while she was in her dorm room.

Herstein has earned other awards, and she hopes others with disabilities will continue to challenge themselves to be the best they can be.

A National Honor Society member while at Centennial High School, Herstein is active in music, drama and volunteering. She spends time with cancer patients and helps make quilts for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Herstein is taking two English courses at UMBC in addition to science classes.

Her favorite academic subject is drawn from her love of reading.

"It's English all the way, because I am a voracious reader. I will read a book in a day," she said.

She reads an assortment of subjects, including science and mysteries, in Braille and listens to audio books.

In addition to yesterday's award, Herstein earned a partial scholarship from the National Federation for the Blind, a national nonprofit that serves people with vision loss and promotes independent and healthy living by providing resources for them and their families.

"That was an award of more than just the money," Herstein said. "That is more about being a part of a family."

Other winners included:

Columbia Bank, which was named Employer of The Year for designing a position for a disabled student to perform tasks such as data entry, tracking computer figures and customer mailing.

AMC Columbia 14 Theatre, which received the Accessibility award for its efforts in assuring physical access for all movie patrons. For the disabled, the amenities include handrails on both sides of the entrance, room for patrons to be seated while others leave, aisle lighting and entry to the theater without the use of stairs.

LIFE (Living In a Free Environment), which received the Service Provider award for years of tailoring programs for the disabled. The agency provides residential services like group homes, supported living arrangements and in-home support for its clients. It also helps its clients find funding and provides funeral services.

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay and Howard County State's Attorney Timothy McCrone, received the Ralph Mulloy Advocacy award for their efforts in making the two departments accessible to the deaf. The Police Department began a training program for officers to better handle deaf citizens during service calls and incidents. McCrone was commended for ensuring that the judicial system and courts are accessible to all.

Sheri Thomas was given the Individual Achievement award for her efforts in lobbying the County Council to make its chambers more accessible. She also fought to add closed captioning for GTV, Howard County government's television station.

Thomas used her skills as a former sales manager to help the county's disabled.

"As a citizen, we can make a contribution, and that is important," Thomas said. "I take some of the skills I had used in my previous business career and used them to help citizens with disabilities."

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