STEVENSVILLE — For the third year in row, Chesapeake Charities held its awards luncheon Thursday, Nov. 15, to celebrate altruism and community service and those behind it.

Among the winners were The Wills Group as Philanthropist of the Year, The Light House as Nonprofit of the Year, and Mark Freestate as Volunteer of the Year. Also receiving recognition were medical students Amy Nemirovsky, Alex Tsai, and Stevensville native Jeremey Todd receiving scholarships from The Governor Larry Hogan Scholarship.

“Events like this means so much because we get to help people who’s lives depend on giving back to others,” said Linda Kohler, executive director for Chesapeake Charities. “There’s no limit to where we can go as a community if we work together and (combine) our resources. We have challenges and some of them are daunting, but I think we have the solutions and the will to solve those problems.”

During the event, Kohler noted that everyone was welcome to participate in the mission of Chesapeake Charities.

Since 2005, the organization has worked with donors and advisors to contribute over $9,000,000 in the areas of education, health and human services, community development, the arts, animal welfare and the environment. This translates to thousands of grants for outstanding projects throughout the Chesapeake Bay region and beyond.

To start the luncheon, winners for The Governor Larry Hogan Scholarship were announced for their dedication to their academic disciplines in medical school as well as their future aspirations in their respective fields.

Nemirovsky, currently studying for a Master’s Degree in the Clinical Research program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, hopes to design clinical trials in the area of urology that bring better treatment options to patients more quickly.

Her passion for treating cancer, the disease that took her grandfather’s life, has led her to work toward removing prostate, bladder, kidney and testicular cancers.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for all the hard work that (has) already been put in to my career. I feel this goes out to all the people who have supported me like my mentors and parents. I’m grateful to Gov. Hogan and Chesapeake Charities for allowing this opportunities,” said Nemirovsky.

Tsai, a fellow scholarship recipient, will complete the concurrent MD and PhD program at the University of Maryland this spring and will dedicate his career to the development of cancer immunotherapies through research.

As the next step on his journey, Tsai will complete a competitive research-focused residency and fellowship program in internal medicine and medical oncology. While he was unable to attend, Rachel McCabe, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, accepted on his behalf.

“It’s great to see so many people willing to give and support us as we’re trying to give back to the community ourselves. It’s empowering to be part of this movement that’s trying to solve problems using our abilities and pouring everything we have into our career,” said McCabe.

Todd is a third-year medical school student at Eastern Virginia Medical School who has chosen interventional radiology as his specialty. He plans to pioneer better ways to treat patients through minimally invasive procedures for diseases with significant mortality, such as cancer.

He expressed his gratitude for the scholarship and noted how special it was that cane from the community that saw him grow up.

“This is a tremendous honor to be recognized as a student considering the countless hours we put into it. I’m grateful for Linda Kohler who suggested I apply, and I wouldn’t be here without her. You grow up here knowing everyone, so you learn to be kind. That has gotten me far in this career,” said Todd.

J. Blacklock “Lock” Wills Jr., chairman, president and CEO of The Wills Group, noted the Philanthropist of the Year award is a result of an altruistic company culture.

As part of company’s 90th anniversary, the Blackie Wills Community Leadership Fund was established at Chesapeake Charities in 2016.

Since that time, and through the collective efforts of CEO and Chairman Lock Wills, board members, and employees at the Wills Group’s family of businesses, they raised more than $2.3 million for charitable, community engagement efforts to end childhood hunger and ensure everyone lives in a safe and healthy home.

In 2017, they provided 1.5 million meals for children in partnership with No Kid Hungry and collected 901 pounds of food. Through their Safe and Healthy Homes initiative, the group assisted 678 households through the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, distributed $61,304 and provided 16 households with heating equipment.

“The tradition of taking care of the community started at the (inception) of the company. Since then, we’ve tried to continue the mission of service everyday. Today, we call it keeping lives in motion. That’s how we show care to our customers, community and one another,” said Wills.

Jo Ann Mattson, executive director for the Light House, discussed how recognition with awards like Nonprofit of the Year bolsters the drive to reach out to more individuals.

The Light House Homeless Prevention Support Center of Annapolis was named Nonprofit of the Year. The Light House has operated for 30 years by providing a place of belonging, education and training programs, and a continuum of services so that families remain connected and supported as their lives improve.

Through the Building Employment Success Training program, over 300 people have received culinary arts and hospitality training since 2012, qualifying them for gainful employment in Anne Arundel County and beyond.

“We feel, at times, that we’re just paddling so hard to stay afloat and awards like this is just what we need to keep going. We’re serving a very difficult population so I’m so grateful for Chesapeake Charities for this support,” said Mattson.

Finally, Mark Freestate, chairman of Saint Martin’s Ministries, addressed the packed ballroom as the Volunteer of the Year and the drive to serve.

Freestate said his passion to end poverty and homelessness started young in life while working with kids at the young age of 15. Over time, working with other individuals as passionate about the same issue has developed into a long volunteer career on the Eastern Shore.

“Saint Martin’s Ministries has been fighting poverty for over 30 years on the Shore. They’ve done it with true volunteerism and sincerity and hard work. There’s so many people I’ve met that have made all this work possible,” said Freestate.

Aside from the numerous boards of which Freestate has been a member, he said he was humbled by the award, but he was quick to note the fight continues to work with underserved populations.

More information on Chesapeake Charities can be found at

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