Recognizing Our 2020 Local Heroes

Rep. Jamie Raskin
12 min readDec 30, 2020


This year, as the Coronavirus hit our community and our nation, I launched a weekly video series featuring Marylanders in the 8th District who are acting creatively and bravely to help our community through the crisis. Since we began, we have recognized 40 outstanding and inspiring Marylanders as our local heroes in 2020 — check them out below.

Episode 1: Lisa Owen and Tina Hsu

Lisa Owen and Tina Hsu were the very first 8th District Local Heroes I featured for their amazing work organizing Glen Echo Heights to serve seniors, support food workers, donate to nonprofits and create masks. Click here to watch their interview.

Tina Hsu (left) and Lisa Owen (right)

Episode 2: Dr. Daniel Aukerman

I was honored to recognize Dr. Daniel Aukerman, a Carroll County family physician, for his remarkable courage during the COVID-19 outbreak at Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mt. Airy in the early months of pandemic. He spent a week there taking care of 81 patients infected with COVID-19. Watch his interview here.

Episode 3: Dhruv Pai and Matthew Casertano

Meet Dhruv Pai and Matthew Casertano, Blair High School sophomores whose determination to help their grandparents turned into a robust intergenerational volunteer grocery service, Teens Helping Seniors. Click here to watch their interview.

Dhruv Pai (left) and Matthew Casertano (right)

Episode 4: Charles Tasco

Whether working as a TransIT bus driver or volunteering to deliver food to seniors, Charles’ kind heart and generosity have spread hope and a little joy to people in Frederick County in tough times. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 5: Arjun Oberoi

A 10th grader at Blair, Arjun took action early in the pandemic to learn how to do 3D printing of face shields and has produced 1,000+ shields for hospitals and first responders. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 6: Sonja Ogburn and Pia Morrison

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 member Sonja Ogburn was nominated for her inspired building maintenance work to keep MCPS schools clean and safe. Local 500 President Pia Morrison also joined the interview to praise Sonja’s hard work. Click here to watch their interview.

Episode 7: Donna Damico

Donna Damico is a mental health nurse who continued to work in patients’ homes when the coronavirus pandemic started and has been a powerful advocate for telemedicine. Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 8: Uniqueca Thomas

Whether disinfecting hospital rooms or consoling COVID-19 patients, Uniqueca brings enthusiasm and compassion to her job as an environmental services aide at Holy Cross Health. She is a hero of this dark time. Click here to watch the interview.

Episode 9: Deanna Najera

As a physician assistant (PA) in Carroll County and President of the Maryland Academy of PAs, Deanna serves COVID-19 patients, addressed the outbreak at the Pleasant View nursing home in Mt. Airy, and advocates for PAs across MD on the frontlines of this pandemic crisis. Deanna was also recently named one of the Baltimore Sun’s 25 Women to Watch 2020. Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 10: Dr. Travis Gayles

As Montgomery County’s top health officer, Dr. Gayles has been a remarkable resource and leader for our community in this pandemic and now offers great advice on staying safe while protesting. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 11: Wesley Harlow Jr.

As United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 shop steward and a Giant grocery employee for 38 years, Wesley is making sure all workers and customers stay safe during the coronavirus crisis. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 12: Feat. Tina Clarke and Honoring Odessa Shannon

We remembered and posthumously honored the beloved Odessa Shannon, an inspirational trailblazer and the first African-American woman elected to the Montgomery County Board of Education. Click here to listen to moving words from her friend and fellow legendary Montgomery County activist, Tina Clarke.

Episode 13: Frank Gilliard III

Ahead of National Postal Worker Day, we celebrated Frank Gilliard. Through his 35-year career with USPS, he has become an expert resource on mail for my constituents. Frank and other USPS workers are on the frontlines of the crisis and are critical to our fight against COVID-19. Watch his interview here.

Episode 14: Eliza Newlin Carney

Star-spangled journalist and songwriter Eliza Newlin Carney, President and Founder of The Civic Circle, was our local hero the week of July 4th. Although we couldn’t celebrate Independence Day in person this year, Eliza had an online parade and program for kids to learn about democracy! Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 15: Meagan Young and Tommy Davis

Meagan Young and Tommy Davis of Linganore created Books for a Cause in Frederick County. Watch how they made friends and turned community need into an intergenerational program to distribute hundreds of books and raise food for the Frederick Rescue Mission.

Episode 16: Beth Taylor

A dedicated volunteer at Manna Food Center and Community Food Rescue volunteer, Beth is helping to make sure everyone can eat during this public health crisis and spreading hope in a time of plague and confusion. Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 17: More Than Masks

Listen to Pamela Fields and Roz Grigsby talk about their amazing program, More Than Masks, which distributes thousands of face masks by a juggler on a unicycle and raises COVID-19 relief funds for food kitchens!

Episode 18: Fire and Rescue Service Workers

I was honored to feature two key fire and service workers as MD-08 local heroes — Battalion Chief Mike Cole of Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS) and Captain Ty DeMent of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS) — and to recognize all fire and rescue service workers on the frontlines of this pandemic. Both counties’ fire and rescue services have received federal funding for frontline workers like Mike and Ty during the pandemic. Click here to watch their interview.

Captain Ty DeMent (left) and Battalion Chief Mike Cole (right)

Episode 19: Jenifer Small

An ESOL and special education teacher with MCPS for 24 years, Jenifer is finding innovative ways to connect with her students and spreading hope, optimism and new ideas during the pandemic crisis. Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 20: Mike Abramowitz

Honored to feature Mike Abramowitz, the President and CEO of Freedom House, as an MD-08 local hero. Sanctioned by the Chinese government for defending democracy in Hong Kong, Mike and Freedom House are defiant leaders in our global fight for human rights. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 21: League of Women Voters & Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, this August I was thrilled to feature Diane Hibino and Kathy McGuire of the Montgomery County League of Women Voters; Carole Sepe and Mary Beth Coker of the Frederick County League of Women Voters; and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner. Watch to learn more about their impressive voter education efforts:

Left to Right (top): Carol Sepe, Diane Hibibo, County Executive Jan Gardner Left to Right (bottom): Kathy McGuire, Mary Beth Coker

Episode 22: Dorothy Stoltz

As the Director of Community Engagement at the Carroll County Public Library and a member of the Carroll County Complete Count Committee, Dorothy served as Census liaison for all library locations and was named a 2020 Census Champion in Maryland for her stellar efforts. Go Dorothy! Click here to watch her interview.

Episode 23: Leocadie Estelle Ganga

A dedicated USPS letter carrier in Silver Spring who never misses a day of work, Leocadie makes sure mail is delivered on time and is on the frontlines of our battle against COVID-19. Click here to watch the interview.

Episode 24: Andy Levy & Megan O’Brien

On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we remembered all who lost their lives that day and honored our first responders, EMTs and firefighters for their brave public service. I was proud to feature Andy Levy, the Regional Coordinator of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute’s North Central Regional Training Office, and Megan O’Brien, a volunteer with Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, as our local heroes of the week. Click here to watch their interview.

Andy Levy (left) and BCC Rescue Squad Volunteer Megan O’Brien (Picture Credit: Robin Fader)

Episode 25: Oneyda Hernandez and Camila Lavadenz

As we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, I was excited to recognize Oneyda Hernandez and Camila Lavadenz for their work with Audelia Community Response Team. Watch their interview to learn how Oneyda and her family built a mutual aid network to deliver food and more to families and those in need in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

Camila Lavadenz (left) and Oneyda Hernandez (right)

Episode 26: Araceli Lara

During Small Business Week, I was thrilled to feature Araceli Lara, co-founder of Jalapeno Mexican Grill, as our local hero. Big thanks to Lauren Goldberg and Jennifer Underwood of Crossroads Community Food Network for their support of small businesses like Araceli’s! Click here to watch their interview.

Araceli Lara (left) of Jalapeno Mexican Grill and Jennifer Underwood (right) of Crossroads Community Food Network

Episode 27: Reemberto Rodriguez

Reemberto Rodriguez is the Montgomery County Regional Director for the Silver Spring area. Whether working to reopen Montgomery County safely or ensuring we got an accurate Census count, Reemberto is a passionate and unstoppable public servant in our county and beyond. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 28: Jacob Newman

As the Managing Director for the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Montgomery County, Jacob Newman and his team work with young people in our community to ensure they get the support and resources they need. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 29: Maria Herrera

’The dazzling Maria Herrera is the Executive Director of Spanish Speaking Community of MD, Inc. and a recently named 2020 Census Champion in Maryland. Watch to learn about her team’s essential work in Montgomery County, Frederick County, and beyond.

Episode 30: David Gamse

David Gamse is the retiring CEO of Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA) of Greater Washington. Since 1990, David has been a brilliant leader for our community and we thank him for his many years of unwavering dedication to seniors in MD, especially during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 31: Suzanna Banwell and Matt Regan

In our final days leading up to the 2020 presidential election, I was honored to feature Suzanna Banwell and Matt Regan, founders of a voter registration and education organization, as our local heroes of the week. Through their passion for voter registration, they have grown 4you2vote into a powerful local treasure. Click here to watch their interview and learn more about the organization.

Matt Regan (left) and Suzanna Banwell (right)

Episode 32: Sean Riley

During National Family Literacy Month, I was delighted to feature Sean Riley, Head of Children’s Services at the Silver Spring Library, as a local hero. Montgomery County Public Libraries continue to have excellent resources for young people in the pandemic and Sean shared many of their wonderful initiatives. Watch our discussion to learn more!

Sean Riley and Jadis, named after the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia book series.

Episode 33: Dr. Bob Koffman

The week of Veterans Day, I was thrilled to recognize Dr. Bob Koffman, Vice Chair of the Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs and a PREVENTS Ambassador, as our local hero. Watch his interview to learn about his dazzling career caring for vets, his work with Warrior Canine Connection, and the PREVENTS pledge to end suicide. Click here to take the REACH pledge.

Dr. Bob Koffman (left) and his Warrior Canine Connection Service Dog Ron (right)

Episode 34: Dr. Van Coots, Holy Cross Health

Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, I featured Dr. Van Coots, President and CEO of Holy Cross Health and CEO of the Maryland Region of Trinity Health, as our local hero. A remarkable leader of the frontline daily heroes at Holy Cross, Dr. Coots offered excellent public health advice for the holiday season. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 35: Ken Flemmer

Honored to feature Ken Flemmer Executive Director of Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington, as a local hero. Ken has been fighting food insecurity since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and his team shared excellent resources for Thanksgiving. Click here to watch his interview.

Episode 36: Mona Ngem

Montgomery County resident Mona Negm is the President and Founder of the American Muslim Senior Society. A passionate advocate for all seniors, her team of volunteers has been a guiding light for older adults through the pandemic. Watch her interview here.

Episode 37: Rockville Postmaster Gabe Hamilton

Excited to feature Rockville Postmaster Gabe Hamilton as one of our final local heroes of 2020. Whether solving problems for postal service customers or making sure his employees have personal protective equipment (PPE), Gabe has been a remarkable leader at USPS throughout the pandemic and busy holiday season. Click here to learn about the excellent USPS Informed Delivery feature and more during Gabe’s interview.

Episode 38: Olivia de Guzman

Olivia de Guzman is the Founder and President of Community Outreach and Activism Through Art (COATA). Launched to support Frederick County students, COATA has been addressing drug abuse and mental health in the pandemic. Click here to watch Olivia’s interview.

Episode 39: Greta Cuccia, RN, Suburban Hospital

I was honored to recognize Greta Cuccia, a nurse with Suburban Hospital for over 15 years and Clinical Director of the Pediatrics and Trauma Emergency Department. She has led a valiant team through the COVID-19 pandemic and offered advice ahead of Christmas week. Click here to watch her interview.

Greta Cuccia, center left, holding the Lantern Award from the Emergency Nurses Association, August 2018, with staff from Suburban’s emergency and trauma departments.

Episode 40: Dr. Fiona Hill

I was delighted to feature Montgomery County’s own Dr. Fiona Hill as our 40th Local Hero. A remarkable public servant whose truth-telling in 2020 rattled tyrants everywhere, Dr. Hill insists upon strong democracy based on equal opportunity for all. Click here to watch her interview.

2020 Local Hero of the Year: Maryland’s 8th District

I’m grateful beyond measure to represent the people of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll Counties and thank you all for your exemplary resilience and solidarity in a challenging year. Click here to watch my message to you.



Rep. Jamie Raskin

Proudly serving Maryland's beautiful Eighth Congressional District and leading Democrats on the House Oversight Committee in Congress.