Carolyn Jaffe: More than 20 Years of Community Advocacy

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Her laughter is hearty and contagious and her blue eyes twinkle when she talks about the things she is passionate about in our community. In 1989, Carolyn Jaffe bought her house on August Street in Easton. The East End neighborhood where she has lived for 20 years, as well as the rest of Talbot County, have all benefitted from her advocacy and volunteerism.

After her arrival in Easton, Carolyn got active in the East-End Neighborhood Association (EENA) when she organized recycling near the town’s Railroad Station, as part of the EENA spring clean-up. She had started the recycling program at the Chesapeake Center in Easton where she worked at the time. In the mid-90s, she won two tickets to Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival at the Avalon and afterward, she started volunteering for the Avalon.

Community advocate Carolyn Jaffe’s biggest passions include coordinating First Night Talbot and creating Passport to the Arts.

Later, Carolyn found herself working part-time for the Avalon, co-writing grants with Ellen Vatne, previously Ellen General, and acting as the community liaison. She and Ellen wrote grants for the underserved, for outreach and to fund public events at the Avalon. In 2000, Carolyn helped to create Passport to the Arts, a special section of the Star Democrat designed to promote arts events in Talbot County. She has assembled and edited this publication for almost 20 years. For several years, as part of her job with the Avalon, she was also manager for the Easton Farmers’ Market.

She states, “Passport to the Arts keeps me attuned to the ‘community.’ My special concern is for the children’s and free family activities, and special programs that benefit the underserved, those with disabilities and seniors.”

She adds, “I also like the fundraisers for good causes, which ‘invite’ the community to learn about them and support them. These community activities mean so much to me.”

The roles Carolyn played through the Avalon and with Passport to the Arts are some of her biggest legacies to the community, along with First Night Talbot, which began in 1998 as a family-friendly, alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Easton. Over the last 25 years, Carolyn has been a growing part of First Night Talbot, organizing the community organization that runs the event each New Year’s Eve and coordinating the night’s performance acts.

Her passion for First Night, however, goes beyond the festivities of the evening. Her own sobriety and seeing the heritage of drinking in Talbot County created her desire to support a New Year’s event in the community that didn’t involve drinking. She comments, “I realized the family lineage and genetic connections to alcohol in Talbot County, as well as the community’s tolerance for alcohol and wanted to do something about it. My own journey in alcohol recovery made it all real. How could I give my gratitude to the community for my sobriety? It’s what makes the ‘purposeful living’ so important to me now!”

Carolyn comments, “I knew I was not going to get others to quit drinking but wanted to create responsible behavior around children for events where alcohol is involved, as well as optional activities where alcohol is not present.”

She adds, “The courage of your own convictions means not just fighting against something but believing in something.”

Initially, Carolyn got involved in fighting the prevalence of alcohol sales in the East End, which was causing crimes in her neighborhood. She later got involved in helping to create the Master Plan for the East End neighborhood and, recently, in helping to recognize The Hill and the Hispanic business community which are now vital components to the neighborhood’s growth and development.

Working for nonprofits, Carolyn has always had a role in advocacy – advocating for clients at the Chesapeake Center and Benedictine, being a counselor at the Talbot County Health Department, and advocating for seniors at Asbury Place. During the last 30 years, her advocacy role has also grown in supporting the arts. Most recently, Carolyn has been advocating for Easton’s Arts and Entertainment District and the new Culture Crossing on Rails to Trails in the East End. She recalls, “Years ago, Ellen wanted it to happen, but it took until now. I helped connect the artist Josepha Price to the resources to get Culture Crossing started and tucked under the wing of Discover Easton.”

Carolyn turns 80 years old in February 2020 and will be retiring and moving to just outside of Delta, Pennsylvania to the retirement home she has had for 11 years. Before she leaves, however, she is working with Discover Easton, which is taking over First Night Talbot. She comments, “This event is still my passion. This year, we are bringing in new nonprofit and business partners for the event, which is very exciting.”

As she looks to the future and living away from Easton, Carolyn comments, “I still want to come back to Easton to enjoy the fruits of my labors all these years and still maintain some of the volunteer activities I enjoy. I won’t stay away for long.”

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