Legacy of Service

Published in Dome - January/February 2018

Eight recipients of the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards honored at Johns Hopkins’ annual MLK commemoration on Jan. 19. 

Renee Blanding

Vice President of Medical Affairs

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center 

As a young child, Renee Blanding cherished her visits to the library, where her brothers helped her select books, then read them to her. The vice president of medical affairs for Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center is now taking her “lifelong love” of reading into the classrooms of elementary schools in East Baltimore as part of the Readership to Leadership literacy program she launched in 2013. Working closely with schoolteachers and community liaisons, as well as colleagues from Bayview, she hopes to enrich the program with group mentoring and more staff volunteerism.  

Darren Brownlee

Assistant Administrator

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Five years ago, while serving with the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE), Darren Brownlee responded to a call to mentor Baltimore youths through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. An assistant administrator for the Department of Medicine and chairman’s office, Brownlee has helped strengthen the confidence of his “little brother,” now a high school sophomore. “I wanted to make an impact on those who may not have male figures in their life, especially black male role models,” Brownlee says. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.” As president of NAHSE’s Baltimore chapter, he also increased the funding and participation for its paid summer internship program so that 12 competitively selected college interns could gain experience at local businesses and hospitals, including Johns Hopkins. 

Ariel Hicks

Research Assistant

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Ariel Hicks felt a “deep separation between neighborhoods” after she moved to Baltimore. A chance encounter with the founder of #popscope, a volunteer-run project that promotes public astronomy, provided her with a way to bring together people of different backgrounds and experiences. The research assistant for the school of medicine sets up her 90 millimeter Celestron refractor telescope in communities across the city, then invites people to take a peek at the moon, stars and planets. “You never know who you are going to meet,” she says. “I’m focused on building relationships in the community.” One day each month, Hicks also teaches kindergarten students in Southwest Baltimore how to grow and prepare healthy foods.

Carrie Holdren-Serrell

Clinical Scientist
The Johns Hopkins Hospital

A clinical scientist in the Mycology Laboratory, Carrie Holdren-Serrell organizes food and school-supply drives for her department, and uses her weekends and evenings for volunteer work, such as handing out food, clothing and toiletries to homeless people. As a volunteer for Hannah’s Hope, a nonprofit named after a member of her church who fell victim to human trafficking, she speaks to community groups about the dangers of opioid addiction and human trafficking. Holdren-Serrell has also organized a teacher charity drive for City Springs Elementary/Middle School in East Baltimore (Johns Hopkins staff members donated more than 1,000 items and $260 in cash) and coordinated a food drive that reaped 1,351 pounds of food for the Maryland Food Bank.

Rhonda Johnson

Informatics Program Coordinator
The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Four years ago, Rhonda Johnson set out a box in the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s gynecology and obstetrics department office for people to donate food. “Helping others is the right thing to do,” says Johnson, a 32-year Johns Hopkins employee and clinical informatics coordinator. “Providing food is the least that we can do.” Now she also collects disposable diapers, toys and toiletries. Last year’s food drive provided more than 400 pounds of items to the Maryland Food Bank, and another department-wide effort collected clothing for women at the House of Ruth Maryland and the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Most recently, Johnson gathered donations for victims of hurricanes and floods in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. 

Darcenia McDowell

Laboratory Service Technician

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Darcenia McDowell, a lab service technician in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, coordinates community outreach and volunteer activities, such as assisting at Johns Hopkins’ community science fair for elementary school students and the school of medicine’s weeklong Fun with Science Summer Camp. She also helps with the Henrietta Lacks High School Day and annual symposium, and serves on a board that advises researchers how to get the community involved with clinical trials. Through her work with the Black Faculty and Staff Association, McDowell collects and distributes toiletry items for the homeless, school supplies for students and clothing for veterans. 

Edward McKay Jr.

Surgical Technician
The Johns Hopkins Hospital

One day, while watching TV, a mentoring initiative for boys of color called My Brother’s Keeper caught Edward McKay Jr.’s attention. Then-president Barack Obama was promoting the program, so McKay, a surgical technician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, decided to email the White House about his desire to mentor a child of an incarcerated parent. The personal email response he got from Obama provided extra motivation to connect with My Brother’s Keeper. For a year and a half, McKay has mentored a boy who is now 15. “I stay on him about grades and encourage him,” McKay says. “We talk several times a week.” McKay also speaks to students at local community colleges and events such as the Johns Hopkins Community Science Fair, sharing tales of his career journey from housekeeper to surgical technician. “They think, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’” McKay says. “I say, ‘It’s OK to set goals and to want to better yourself.’”

Juliet Robinson

Surgical Technician
The Johns Hopkins Hospital

Juliet Robinson recalls that many times her parents would share their food with neighbors, and take dinners to the sick and bereaved. “My mother did not let us eat until a plate was made for someone who said that they were hungry,” Robinson says. “My parents taught us to give with your heart.” Now she devotes much of her own spare time to helping people in her East Baltimore community.  A surgical technician in the Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric operating room, Robinson is also a member of the evangelism ministry of New Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Along with providing food, clothes and information about resources to those in need, she collects gently used pocketbooks and fills them with socks, toiletries and other personal items for a local women’s shelter. She also fulfills requests for snacks and cash donations for a lodging facility that accommodates the families of surgical patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.