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Co-director of Volunteer Washington County recognized

Hagerstown Business and Professional Women's Club named Bernadette Wagner 2012 Woman of the Year

November 01, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Bernadette Wagner was recognized in September as the 2012 Woman of the Year by the Hagerstown Business and Professional Womens Club.
By Kevin G. Gilbert

Bernadette Wagner practices what she preaches. As co-director of Volunteer Washington County, she has volunteered full time in that position since March 2011.

Since that time, Wagner, co-director Roxanne Ober and other volunteers have been pairing up local people with volunteer opportunities.

“We’re the linchpin between people looking to volunteer and volunteer organizations. It’s neat that we’re in the Hub City, because we’re the hub of volunteer life,” said Wagner, 55.

Wagner was recognized in September as the 2012 Woman of the Year by the Hagerstown Business and Professional Women’s Club.

“Our organization believed that Bernadette has exhibited exceptional leadership abilities, has served as an excellent role model for young women, and has made numerous contributions to making our Washington County community a better place in which to live and work,” said Sandy Shepherd, co-chair for the event, in an email.

“. . . Her enthusiasm, her accomplishments, and her willingness to serve her community made her the ideal choice for the 2012 Hagerstown BPW Woman of the Year.”

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Wagner said she was speechless after receiving the news and agreed to accept the honor only if she could recognize Ober for her efforts as well.

“We would not be in existence without Roxanne,” Wagner said.

The two had served together as school board members for Washington County Public Schools from 2000 to 2008, but were looking to the future.

“We were finished with school board service, but we said we’re not done with service to the community,” Wagner said.

The next endeavor they had in mind was developing a college support system for county students, knowing that only 17 percent of county high school graduates go on to four-year colleges.

They found a company to partner with, but wanted to run their organization as a nonprofit and the company required them to charge for the services. With a little more research, they discovered that college support services are offered through many county volunteer centers.

At the time, Washington County was one of only two Maryland counties without a volunteer center, Wagner said, prompting her and Ober to put together a plan to create a volunteer center.

In early 2009, they began researching the idea and by August 2010, had met with state officials and received a letter of support from the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteering.

With supporting documents for the positive impact that volunteering can have on communities, the women made presentations to local groups such as the county commissioners, The Community Foundation, The Civic Engagement Subcommittee of the SCIP group, the Greater Hagerstown Committee and Washington County Public Schools and received a favorable response.

Wagner was working as a paid speech pathologist, but looking for a change, just as the youngest of her five children, twin daughters, were heading to college. Ober has a full-time job as admissions representative for Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in Hagerstown.

“I do most of the writing and public speaking. Roxanne likes to be behind-the-scenes and do research. It’s a great partnership. I feel like she’s an incredible resource for me,” Wagner said.

She said Ober also filed all the 401(c)3 papers and does the taxes for VWC.

The nonprofit’s website went live May 2, 2011 and they moved their office space from Wagner’s kitchen to a donated space in the American Red Cross building on Conrad Court in November 2011.

With 533 nonprofits identified in Washington County, 171 of them churches, Wagner said there are volunteer opportunities for every age and interest.

“At each stage of life, there are different reasons to be involved,” Wagner said.

They hope to reach volunteers of all ages, starting with youth to develop positive volunteering experiences so they’ll be involved with volunteerism throughout their lives.

Wagner recently began hosting a weekly show called “Reach Out” on HMTV6 that will highlight nonprofit organizations that serve the Washington County community.

Over the years, Wagner has also volunteered for a number of organizations.

She is a board member of Teens Have Choices and the Mentor Advisory Board for Lead 4 Life, as well as a member of the Literacy Initiative Task Force, the Underage Drinking Coalition and Reaching Outside the Box.

Wagner, who grew up near Annapolis, and her husband, Matt Wagner, moved their family to Hagerstown in 1991.

Some day, Wagner might draw a salary for her efforts, but that’s not important to her right now.

“That’s not where it is for me. Not drawing a salary for two years, when I speak about volunteer service, it’s not lip service, it’s real,” Wagner said.

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