Black Achievers honor role models

March 28, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

HAGERSTOWN -- "The day will come when this is your spot," Catherine Parson said, gripping the podium that held notes for her keynote speech. "When you arrive, don't tell me you don't have anything to say. You will be tested, so you will have a testimony."

Parson's words bounced off the walls and hung in the air over the Black Achievers Gala Saturday night.

"Get prepared, you have a place to go," she said.

The students in the Hagerstown YMCA's Black Achievers Program have heard the message before.

But Saturday, the message was not just directed to the teenagers -- it also was directed to the adults, Director Deborah Phillips said.

Black Achievers links area black and Latino teens with adult role models who mentor and guide them toward professional and personal success, Phillips said.


The annual gala honors a new group of adults in the community who will become role models for the teens in the program. This year, the group honored Helen Mency, Dr. Laura Henderson, Noel Williams and Michael Darnell Shaffer.

Teenagers need someone to direct, coach and encourage them, said Mency, a case worker with the Department of Juvenile Services in Hagerstown.

"There were so many things I could have gotten into, but my mentors and coaches kept me on track," she said.

For Mency, being an adult achiever in the program is another way she can give back to the community that nurtured her as a child and now supports her as an adult.

Raised in Hagerstown, she said her mentors, including Parson, opened doors that otherwise would have been invisible to her.

Youth are so impressionable, all it takes is some discouragement to make them stop believing in their dreams, said Henderson, a physician of internal medicine and pediatrics in Smithsburg.

Like the other adults honored Saturday, Henderson credits her mentors for reaching her childhood dream of being a doctor.

Getting to know successful black professionals makes any dream seem possible, said Deonna DeGross, a teen in the program.

Parson, who has an extensive history of working with young adults, said it is up to those who have arrived to help those still on the journey.

"Black Achievers, it is time for you to get up and go to work," Parson said in her final charge to the adults. "It does not cost a thing to be a mentor. We all are a gift from God, so each of us has something to give."

The following four men and women were recognized Saturday as Adult Achievers.

o Dr. Laura Henderson, physician of internal medicine/pediatrics at Smithsburg Family Practice

o Helen Mency, case manager for juvenile services in Hagerstown

o Michael Darnell Shaffer, school-age program coordinator at Citi Family Center in Hagerstown

o Noel Williams, formerly of Fujifilm USA and a volunteer with the United Way of Washington County

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