Lent named Citizen of the Year
Feb. 26, 2003
Terri Hogan
Staff Writer

Dan Gross/The Gazette

Ellen Lent is the Greater Olney Civic Association's 2002 Citizen of the Year for her work with Project Change, a collaboration of students and adults committed to providing positive opportunities for youths.

GOCA to honor

all winners during 25th award

ceremony Sunday

Ellen Lent, president of Project Change, a collaboration of high-schoolers and adults committed to providing positive opportunities for youths, is the Greater Olney Civic Association's 2002 Citizen of the Year.

"The Greater Olney Civic Association credits Lent for her extraordinary efforts to take the organization to its next level," said award program organizer Ron Berger. "Through her role of facilitator, advisor, fundraiser, publicist, and now as president, she has significantly strengthened the group and its ability to pursue its goal of establishing a safe gathering place for teens, getting it incorporated, recruiting an adult board of directors, and arranging for non-profit status."

Lent said she was humbled by the honor.

"I always tell myself how many things I can't do for Project Change, and I feel bad," she said. "I am overwhelmed by this, because it reminds me how much there is to do. I am so grateful for the tremendous honor and support for Project Change.

"I thought of all the talented people who work so hard to make Olney the wonderful place it is, and how deserving so many others are of this same honor," Lent added. "I am truly humbled to be selected in this field of bright stars."

Lent credited others who helped Project Change reach the level it enjoys today.

"It is genuinely an award to the teenagers of Project Change, because I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them," she said. "Teenagers have a big job around here. They're expected to be responsible members of their families, responsible friends, responsible students, responsible athletes, responsible musicians, responsible actors, singers and dancers, responsible workers, responsible drivers, and responsible non-smokers, non-drinkers, non-drug-users and non-any-other-kind-of-irresponsible-behaviors.

"But all that responsibility is a lot of work. Even for adults, it's a big burden," she added. "And what do adults do when we want a break from all of our responsibilities? We find some friends, we find some fun, and we find something relaxing or entertaining or exciting or just plain recreational to do. And Olney and its surrounding area offer plenty of things for adults to do."

However, Lent says, Olney is not overflowing with safe, inviting, recreational things for teens to do.

"Teens tell us what they do: go to the movies, go out to eat and go to friends' houses," she said. "Not a very long list. To help with this bleak prospect, Project Change has been successfully offering more excitement in Olney for over three years now."

Project Change has hosted many successful activities, including dances, basketball events, a film festival and a murder-mystery dinner.

Lent said that raising a regular source of funds for Project Change is key to the organization's next goal, which is creating dedicated spaces for teens to socialize, study, work and have "loud fun."

Lent also credits the founding members of Project Change with the success of the organization. Those members include Stephanie Bryn and Anne Moriarty; Julie Sanders of Carl Freeman Corp., who helped the group achieve nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service and create an ambitious business plan; and Paula Kahla of Paula's Boutique for envisioning the need for an Olney Chamber of Commerce representative to the organization.

"I also thank the entire board of directors and board of advisors of Project Change, and my wonderful husband Bob and son Jeremy, for supporting Project Change by supporting my efforts," she said.

Lent, who has lived in Olney for eight years, got involved with Project Change after reading an appeal in a Chamber of Commerce newsletter for someone to serve as a liaison to the group. As a new chamber member, Lent volunteered.

"At the time, I was grieving the loss of Buzz Ferebee, an assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 433, and a Montgomery County police officer," she said. "He had given so much of himself to youth, and I wanted to try to fill a little bit of the void that his death created."

Lent, a self-employed psychologist, has never worked professionally with adolescents.

"My professional focus is workplace and vocational psychology, but this is truly where my heart is," she said. "It's been a real learning experience.

"The teens are so full of energy and the willingness to push themselves, but sometimes they are not capable of speaking out on their own behalf," Lent added. "If adults help make the platform, they can do a beautiful job of speaking their needs."

More award winners

The Olney Boys and Girls Club Community Sports Association, Susan Petrocci and Jennifer Schauffler are winners of GOCA's Contribution to Community awards.

The Olney Boys and Girls Club Community Sports Association (OBGC) was formed in 1969 to provide organized sports for youngsters in the growing Olney community. It now serves 2,000 families and more than 5,000 youngsters, and recently opened its new facility, the OBGC Community Park at Freeman Fields.

Susan Petrocci, a civic activist, got involved in the community in response to proposed provisions for the neighboring Upper Rock Creek Master Plan that would have had adverse effects on Olney and her Norbeck Meadows neighborhood.

"She familiarized herself with the development, zoning and road-building issues involved and educated her community regarding the effects of the proposals on school crowding, neighborhood street safety, road congestion and the environment," Berger said. "Devoting countless hours to this effort, she attended dozens of meetings, and provided compelling testimony before the Planning Board and County Council."

Jennifer Schauffler, coordinator of the Sandy Spring Homework Club at Ross Boddy Community Center, is dedicated to the children in the community who rely on the support and resources of the Homework Club.

"Through her energy, dedication and perseverance, she has had a major impact on the students she serves," Berger said. "Her outstanding approach to her job is highlighted by her recent successful efforts on behalf of the Homework Club students to find alternate funding to keep the program running through the end of this school year after losing a county grant."

Helene Jennings and Tom Abraham are winners of the Olney Heritage Award.

Jennings is a civic activist who made major contributions in the areas of land use, zoning, planning, education, recreation, transportation and historic preservation.

"Much of what makes Olney the community it is today -- its appearance, its educational facilities, its housing stock, its Ride-On bus service and a substantial portion of its recreation facilities -- can be traced to Helene's forceful and active role," Berger said.

Jennings received a Contribution to he Community award in 1981, the GOCA Worker of the Year award in 1983 and 1986, and the Citizen of the Year award in 1991.

Abraham, an early GOCA president, is credited with establishing the annual GOCA awards program.

"He pulled the Olney community together as it emerged from the rural town to the modern suburban community is today," Berger said. "He helped it grow in an intelligent fashion, and was a mentor for civic leaders that followed him."

GOCA will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its annual awards ceremony on Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Ballroom at Sandy Spring.

"Everyone at GOCA is very excited that we have reached this milestone," Berger said. "It says a great deal about the community and the people who have helped it grow into a place that is desirable to live and work in. We're very grateful to the efforts put forth over the years to make Olney what it is today."

Because this year marks the silver anniversary of the awards, Berger said GOCA has tried to make the ceremony even more special by moving it to the dinner hour, holding it at the Ballroom at Sandy Spring, and having it catered by B.J. Pumpernickel's.

It has traditionally been an afternoon affair.

To help incur the additional costs, GOCA has received over $4,500 in donations from local businesses, including Sandy Spring Bank, The Gazette, Montgomery Mutual Insurance, Pepco, Linowes and Blocher, and Johnson's Nursery.

Many area politicians and dignitaries are expected to attend the event, along with prior award winners and past GOCA officers.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is expected to deliver remarks at the event, issued a proclamation designating March 2 as GOCA Day.

The awards ceremony is open to everyone in the community and Olney residents are urged to help honor the award winners for 2002.

"We want everyone to come out and show their appreciation to those who make Olney what it is today," he said.