Debra Byrd – VM Story -There is H.O.P.E.

Debra Kilpatrick Byrd brings over 20 years of event planning, community outreach, government relations, program development and marketing leadership as the principal and owner of DAK Occasions & Marketing, LLC. Mrs. Kilpatrick Byrd has held several executive level positions as Chief of Staff for the DC Fire Department, National Coordinator at the Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Director of the BET Foundation/BET Networks and Director of Programs for the American Diabetes Association that laid the foundation for her vast expertise in event management, program development and marketing. Mrs. Kilpatrick Byrd has been responsible for several nationally successful initiatives and specializes in non-profit program development, fund development, marketing, and overall operations. Mrs. Kilpatrick Byrd has served on local and national health projects and panels. She offers a proven amount of experience in health disparities, behavioral health, public awareness and safety through a multi-platform integrated approach to health education including public awareness campaigns and grassroots programming.

When Debra was asked as her reasons for joining Volunteer Maryland’s AmeriCorps program; “I saw a need with a client that deserved to have volunteers to further its agenda. I am a homeowner and I want to make sure others have the same benefits.” She is referring to the need of volunteers at the site she is serving for in the 2017-18 service year. Housing Options and Planning Enterprises or H.O.P.E. ensures equal access to housing and capital for all persons through counseling, programs and services. H.O.P.E. offers a wide range of services designed to foster self-sufficiency, wealth building, and housing that meets the needs of the communities they serve.

Her goal is to have “a lifetime network of people who think like I do, increase my outreach skills, and have wanted to become an AmeriCorp Member for a long time.”

You can learn more about Debra, and Housing Options and PLanning Enterprises at


Alisha Parzanese – Anne Arundel County Forestry Board – VM Story

This Tuesday’s VM Story takes us to Ms. Alisha Parzanese, originally from New Jersey who is serving at Anne Arundel County Forestry Board.

“There are several good things to know about me! I enjoy camping and spending time outside. I love to spend time with my friends and traveling to various places, such as Universal Studios in Orlando. I’m proud that I became the first individual in my family to graduate from college and serve as an AmeriCorps member. I enjoy learning about the environment and how to develop sustainable practices. This can range from learning about new renewable energy technology to new recycling methods.

I’m doing a term of service with Volunteer Maryland because I want to learn more about nonprofits in the environmental field. After talking to my educational advisors, they suggested that serving for AmeriCorps would be an effective way to do that. I decided that I also wanted to gain real world experience in how to manage volunteers to improve on my management skills. Volunteer Maryland presented a good opportunity to do that. I also want to improve my public speaking skills. I feel that I need to project more and have more of a presence when presenting in public.

I’m looking to develop my management skills in coordinating volunteers and developing a volunteer program with Anne Arundel Counties Forestry’s Board. I believe that this fits into my long-term goals in improving my confidence in management practices. In addition, I’m hoping to develop more improved presentation skills. I do tend to be a quiet individual and I need to learn to take into consideration my audiences needs when presenting in public.”

You can learn more about Alisha and Anne Arundel County Forestry Board volunteer opportunities at

Meet Friba – VM Story – Conflict Resolution Center

Friba describes herself as social, confident, and leader by nature. She’s strategic, analytical, and loves to study by reading books.

When asked what motivated her to do a year of service with Volunteer Maryland Friba said, ” I have knowledge and this is the time to use and work practically for my community and it is a great opportunity for me to build my career and learn new skills with helping and working in new field.” Friba also loves to travel, is a proud mother and good wife and a good person in the community. “I have a great time management in my work and have a good relationship with my colleague and friends.”

Friba graduated from Law School and hopes to use this year to gain experience. “After completing my service I have plan to go to back school and take another Master in Peace and conflict Resolution. Then I will be able to take my dream job and achieve at my goal to help people and my community!”

You can learn more about Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County by visiting

Pamela Evans – VM Story -Serving from the Start

Pamela Evans is “a proud mother of three adult children and three, but soon to be four, wonderful grand children. I was born and raised in Baltimore and taught as a young child to serve the community through the church.”

Pamela brings 38 years of public service experience with the State of Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) and community based programs. “Within DHR, I served roles at the local and state levels ranging from case manager, social work supervisor, adult services program specialist, child care operations supervisor to program administrator and accreditation coordinator. I coordinated and led DHR’s statewide accreditation process and was nominated to the National Council on Accreditation’s Board of Commissioners. Outside of DHR, I worked in places such as, but not limited to, children’s diagnostic centers, homeless shelters, alternative living units, hospitals, and inpatient psychiatric (Walter Reed).  I also served the community through the American Red Cross (ARC) for ten plus years responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (Maryland & New Jersey), Illinois Flood Disaster Relief Operations and the South Carolina Church shooting.  While with the ARC I served disaster survivors in a variety of positions such as disaster action team member, case manager, shelter worker, Regional and Division Mental Health Advisor and Advance Trainer.  I was proud and honored to be nominated and to receive the John T. Mendies and the Clara Burton awards for service and volunteer leadership.”

Volunteer Maryland is excited to have Pamela serve at Pigtown Main Street and continue her journey with our AmeriCorps program. To her, “volunteerism and giving back to the community has been a strong aspect of my raising and values and I wanted to continue to find new ways to remain involved and active in the community. The Main Street Project presented an unique opportunity learn a new approach to revitalizing Baltimore Communities. I see this opportunity as a challenge to approach our communities that are struggling from a different perspective.”

You can learn more about Pamela and volunteer opportunities regarding Pigtown Main Street at . 

Sophia – Ulman Cancer Fund – VM Story

Sophia Garber is a recent graduate of SUNY Geneseo where she was heavily involved with the campus’s Relay for Life and dance community where she was part of the dance team and Geneseo Dance Ensemble.

In spring 2016,  Sophia traveled to Borgne, Haiti as part of a service learning trip and was inspired by the culture and people to continue to engage in service. “I decided to study abroad the following semester in Cusco, Peru where I took classes and volunteered. After graduating Geneseo, I partook in a cross country bike ride called the 4K for Cancer where I was introduced to The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. I raised over $9,500 for the organization and biked 4,000 miles from Baltimore to San Francisco.”

She wanted to find a way to transition into the working world while still helping people. “I found The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults through participation in the 4K for Cancer program and was inspired and motivated to stay involved with them and their fight to improve the lives of young adults with cancer.”

During her service year, Sophia hopes hopes to gain an understanding of nonprofit organizations, become a strong team player, and be able to leave a lasting legacy in the incredible organization, The Ulman Cancer Fund. “I hope to gain stronger public speaking  and problem solving skills. This is a perfect first step in my end goal of working with nonprofit organizations.”

Volunteer Maryland is excited to see Sophia shine in the next year as she serves the Baltimore Community as Volunteer Coordinator. You can learn more about The Ulman Cancer Fund by visiting

Jackson Hickey – CHAI – VM Story


I am Jackson Hickey, a recent graduate of Goucher College. It is with great excitement that I start my ten months of service with AmeriCorps. While I have worked with volunteers before, prior to accepting this position I was working in architectural sheet metal fabrication. I am lucky to accept this position and I hope that my wide variety of experience will come to together to help me through it.

I have lead volunteer groups from both my time with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and my time as a Peer Facilitator at Goucher College. Volunteer work is deeply meaningful to me as a practical way to make meaningful local change. The opportunity to work with Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc in a program that could expand to help hundreds of people was not an opportunity I could pass up.

I have lead volunteer groups from both my time with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and my time as a Peer Facilitator at Goucher College. Volunteer work is deeply meaningful to me as a practical way to make meaningful local change. The opportunity to work with CHAI in a program that could expand to help hundreds of people was not an opportunity I could pass up.

To learn more about Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc and opportunities to volunteer at their organization visit

Thanuja Rajapakse Cares at Hospice Caring Inc.

Our next VM AmeriCorps spotlight is Thanuja who is serving at Hospice Caring Inc. She was born in Sri Lanka and moved to the United States when she was just eight years old.

“Sinhala is my first language. I got my bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Professional Clinical and a minor in Sociology. I served as a missionary for my church in Chile for 18 months. I loved living in Chile. I loved the people and the culture. I visit Sri Lanka almost every two years. All of my extended family still lives there. I really enjoy learning about other cultures. I love being around people and serving in any way that I can.”

Thanuja learned about the opportunity of serving in AmeriCorps from a friend who encouraged her to apply. “He only had good things to say about it.” She enjoys volunteering and hopes to encourage many folks to volunteer while she is the Volunteer Coordinator at Hospice Caring Inc. “I really do believe that some people would love to serve if only they knew where to start. I wanted the opportunity to learn more about how to help people find opportunities to serve as well as have the opportunity to serve myself. ”

“I am hoping to gain some experience. I hope to gain a sense of purpose. I hope that I can serve my community. I also really hope to have some networking opportunities. I hope that I learn how to lead and organize. I know that whatever career path I end up pursuing, it will involve dealing with people. And so I know that AmeriCorp will help me learn about how to work with people as well as how to motivate people.”

You can learn more about Hospice Caring Inc. by visiting and if you or someone you know would be interested in volunteering at Hospice Caring Inc. contact Thanuja!

Kelsey Eastman – Deep Roots Inc. – MY VM Story

Kelsey is a recent graduate from East Carolina University with a degree in Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Global Understanding serving as Volunteer Coordinator at Deep Roots Inc. who’s mission is ‘ending children’s homesessness one child at a time’ in Cecil County, Maryland.

“When I was a sophomore in college, I went on a service trip with an organization called Students Helping Honduras. This experience was ultimately the turning point and would change the direction of my life. By then end of this short eight day service trip, I had decided that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life towards helping those who do not have the resources to help themselves.”

I have done a lot of service work across the globe form Honduras, to Peru, to South Africa—but I haven’t had the opportunity to serve in my own community since high school. I wanted to take some time to make an impact in a place close to home and close to my heart. I am also always trying to further my leadership skills and this position will help me to learn more and participate in the management aspect of volunteerism.

During Kelsey’s service year her goal is to gain experience and expertise in volunteer management and coordination. “Serving at my site will give me more experience volunteering with youth populations. After the completion of my service term, I hope to leave for the Peace Corps and serve in youth and development and youth empowerment. My professional goal is to work with global nonprofits in human rights and sustainable development.”

We’re so happy to have Kelsey serve as an AmeriCorps Member with Volunteer Maryland for the 30th VM class! Visit to learn more about Deep Roots in action!

Peer Leader Maggie – VM Story

This year Volunteer Maryland will be hosting the class of #VM30! Today help me in introducing our second peer leader Maggie Straub!

“I served with Volunteer Maryland last year at Crossroads Community, Inc. where I recruited and managed volunteers to work one-on-one with individuals who have behavioral health needs.

I continued my service with AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland this year as a Peer Leader because I feel a deep sense of dedication to volunteer service and the community around me. I wanted to take the next step as a Peer Leader to serve in a new capacity by mentoring fellow AmeriCorps members in this program.

It is my hope to use my past experience with Volunteer Maryland to motivate other AmeriCorps Members throughout the cohort to reach their full potential while taking advantage of as many professional development opportunities they can throughout the year.

Fun fact, I spent two months living in Dublin, Ireland where I interned at a non-profit focused on providing services to at-risk youth, to include after-school clubs and resume workshops.”

We’re so excited to have Maggie serve with the support team this year! Subscribe to our blog to continue getting updates on our rad upcoming service year!

#VolunteerMD #serveMaryland #AmeriCorps

Peer Leader Yinka – My VM Story

This year Volunteer Maryland will be hosting the class of #VM30! Today help me in introducing one of our two peer leaders Yinka Taiwo!

“I was a part of VM 29 at Montgomery County Community Action Agency. At CAA I helped run the volunteer program for the VITA & SNAP program. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helped low income family prepare their taxes. The SNAP program’s goal is to make food more accessible for Montgomery County residents.

One important thing I learned about myself as a VM is that I like to connect people with resources. My passion to help individuals with chronic illness may have sparked my drive to bridge the gap between individuals, organizations and the services they provide.

I became a peer leader because I enjoy being a source of support and I enjoy interacting with people. Most especially people willing to sacrifice their time for the good of their community.

I grew up in Nigeria and have lived in the US for over half of my life now. Despite that I feel my journey is still at the beginning because I still have so much to learn.

One thing I will like to share with you going forward is not to be so self-conscious about what you consider a weakness. For example, I used to think I was really short, but I learned that there are people out there who will consider me tall. When I auditioned to be Mickey/ Minnie Mouse at Disney world. I was rejected because I was too tall! With that being said see your weakness as your strength especially the ones that cannot be changed.”

Yinka Taiwo

We’re so excited to have Yinka serve with the support team this year! Stay tuned tomorrow to meet our other peer leader!