The Board of Education of Charles County recently held its annual Be the Difference Awards program to recognize the exceptional contributions of volunteers within the school system. The ceremony, which took place at North Point High School on June 21, celebrated the dedication and commitment of individuals who have significantly impacted the Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) community.

Established in 2018, the Be the Difference Awards program aims to acknowledge the invaluable role played by volunteers in enhancing teaching and learning across the school district. The program features five award recognition categories: elementary school parent volunteer, middle school parent volunteer, high school parent volunteer, Charles County business volunteer, and community organization volunteer. School staff members can nominate deserving volunteers with outstanding commitment and support.

This year, a total of 20 nomination finalists were selected from among the nominees. Four overall award recipients were chosen from this esteemed group in their respective categories. The 2023 Be the Difference Awards winners are Maria Real, Yolanda Penn, Seun Williams, and Keith Elkins.

Maria Real, an elementary parent volunteer from Arthur Middleton Elementary School, was recognized for her exceptional support of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) and her unwavering dedication to the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) community at the school. Real is highly regarded by the Middleton staff for her remarkable ability to foster connections between the school community and staff members. Her nomination materials highlight her passion and willingness to go above and beyond in supporting the Middleton school community.

Yolanda Penn, a high school parent volunteer from Henry E. Lackey High School, received recognition for her extensive involvement in the Lackey Athletics Booster Association and her current role as the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO) vice president. Penn’s commitment to the Lackey community is evident in her consistent presence at community and athletic events, where she readily offers her assistance. Described as a dedicated leader, Penn devotes countless hours to supporting the school, its students, and their families.

Seun Williams, a community organization volunteer and advisor to the Mock Trial team at North Point High School, was honored for his exceptional guidance and mentorship. Williams played a pivotal role in leading the team to the state Mock Trial finals—an unprecedented accomplishment in CCPS history. His nomination materials attest to his countless hours mentoring students, sharing his passion for the law, and helping them prepare for Mock Trial events. Williams’s commitment to providing meaningful support, expertise, and inspiration to his students has left an indelible mark on the North Point community.

Keith Elkins, the owner of Charles County business Keith Elkins Karate, was acknowledged for his longstanding contributions as a community business volunteer with CCPS. Elkins oversees the successful HERO program at the elementary school level, which fosters leadership skills, promotes self-respect and respect for others, and nurtures effective communication and teamwork. His nomination materials highlight his unwavering dedication to helping children succeed and thrive, as well as the positive impact he has had on students both in the classroom and at home.

In addition to the overall award recipients, several finalists were recognized for their exceptional contributions to the awards program’s various categories. These individuals include Teresa Shasho Clark, Stephanie Distler, Ayana Edwards, Lindsay Funkhouser, Nadia Kendall-Diaz, Krystal Magana, Kristina Newton, Gloria Rosier, Nadia Trent, and Christina Vigorito in the Elementary School Parent Volunteer category.

The High School Parent Volunteer category finalists were Lawonda Alleyne and DeLisa Gaines, while the Community Organization Volunteer category finalists were Darrell Bramer, Melissa Gilpin, Kaprece James, and Heather LaBelle.

Regrettably, no nominations were in the middle school parent volunteer category for the 2023 awards program.

The Be the Difference Awards program serves as a reminder of volunteers’ significant role in the success of Charles County Public Schools. Their selfless dedication and tireless efforts create a nurturing and supportive environment for students, teachers, and staff.

For those interested in becoming volunteers with CCPS, the school district encourages individuals to visit their website at The website provides comprehensive information on volunteer opportunities, requirements, and the application process.

As the 2023 Be the Difference Awards program ended, the Board of Education of Charles County expressed gratitude and appreciation for the exemplary volunteers who make a difference in the lives of students and the school community. Their commitment to enhancing education through their selfless service is truly commendable, and their impact will continue to resonate within Charles County Public Schools for years to come.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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