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 more than 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
When Val Albee shared her story of the loss of her daughter, Mariah, to an overdose in 2012, she could not have imagined her passion for giving back to the community would grow to include two programs helping those in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), and/or mental health challenges. Recently, Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble helped find a place in the Talbot County Business Center on Glebe Road in Easton for Mariah’s Closet and Wheels for Change.
In 2014, Val and Rick Albee started Mariah’s Mission, a component fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, to honor their daughter, Mariah. For the past seven years, Val’s focus has been on supporting families who are either struggling with the loss of loved ones or families dealing with a loved one with a substance use disorder. While this will always be part of Mariah’s Mission, Val was looking for a way to move forward from her grief and become a positive force in the wellness solution for those struggling with addiction. The couple began focusing on providing the resources needed to eliminate barriers to recovery and by encouraging changes that lead to a healthy and independent life.
Val knew she wanted to do something to honor Mariah. Val states, “It is really because of the generosity of this community and our committee members that we have been able to accomplish all of this.”
Because of the new space, Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble is working on an initiative with Teen Court and Mariah’s Closet. He states, “I am excited that the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office’s Teen Court initiative will be teaming up with Valerie Albee and Mariah’s Closet. This partnership will provide an opportunity for our youth to assist those in need in our community.”
In July 2019, the Albees created Wheels for Change, a program that focuses on providing transportation to individuals in recovery. They collaborated with Ryan Hickey, of Easton Cycle and Sport, who lost his brother, Joe, when he died as the result of an accident while riding his bicycle. The three of them are working together to create something truly positive from their grief. Easton Cycle and Sport conducts safety checks when needed on bikes to Wheels for Change. Mariah’s Mission purchases helmets and locks.
“To date, we have given away about 21 bikes. Transportation is a major obstacle in the recovery process. People need a way to get to appointments, meetings, and their jobs. With transportation options limited on the Eastern Shore, the bikes are a great solution,” comments Val.
The Wheels for Change program took off like crazy. People can donate new or gently used bikes or make monetary donations to Mariah’s Mission to purchase new bikes. Bikes are distributed mainly through the Recovery Houses on the Mid Shore to reach clients in need, although people can reach out to Wheels for Change directly as well. In December of 2019, the Albees formed Mariah’s Hands of Hope to address the clothing needs of recovering individuals in the Mid Shore community. In 2021, this program morphed into Mariah’s Closet, opening in its new location where it offers free clothing and bikes. To date, Mariah’s Closet has helped over 30 people.
“Val and Mariah’s Closet has been and continues to be such a great resource for individuals starting out in early recovery. Their bikes create quicker transport and better time management and the clothing builds confidence and allows them the opportunity to look presentable at job interviews and other pivotal moments. Val’s hard work and passion are visible to all that visit Mariah’s Closet. She offers a comforting smile and brings a warm non-judgmental attitude as she gives to others. At Humble House we are very appreciative to have her and Mariah’s Closet for our men in Talbot County,” comments Jeremy Savin, director of Humble House Recovery in Easton.
Val reflects, “Mariah’s Closet and Wheels for Change grew out of something special I had shared with Mariah. Community service was something we did together. We worked with the homeless in Baltimore City – whether it was passing out food and clothing on Christmas Eve or distributing Easter baskets at Easter – she felt the same compassion I do about those in need. She stands right beside me doing this now.”
Val recalls Mariah’s kind heart even when going through her own hospitalizations due to a mood disorder. She would be sure to give gifts to the patients she encountered then. She states, “She understood the vulnerability with her addiction and mental health issues and reached out to others facing the same challenges.”
Val, who initially got involved in providing family peer support to families, found that experience to be challenging to her own healing process. She adds, “The experience of giving back through these two new programs has really brought positivity into my life again – giving back in a different but very important way to the recovery process. I know what I do matters if I can put a smile on one person’s face through these outreach programs.”
Carolyn Dlabik, who recently shopped at Mariah’s Closet, wrote to Val, “I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Your kindness and help are changing my life in the most positive way…I am proud wearing my new shoes, sweatshirt, and jeans. I feel wonderful today. Thank you!”
Clients who visit the new location on Glebe Road are greeted with Mariah’s Mission’s Memorial Angel Wall. The wall is a tribute by parents to their children who have died from substance use and suicide. Three of these parents are now part of the committee. They feel by getting involved they are giving back in honor of their children. Some clients also volunteer at Mariah’s Closet after using the program’s services.
Val adds, “I think we all feel, ‘if we only had one more chance.’ By helping with this program parents can give back and get support at the same time.”
Mariah’s Closet is taking gently used and new casual clothing appropriate for people re-entering the workforce.
“As it grows, we will have the resources to buy new items to meet the seasonal needs, like hats and gloves for winter,” Val adds.
“Much hard work went into creating the ‘Closet,’ and I am so grateful to my husband Rick for building everything needed to transform the space. Deep gratitude also goes to Joe Gamble for believing in our mission and making it possible for us to share the space with Teen Court,” states Val.
Committee members helping with Mariah’s Closet and Wheels for Change include Rick Albee, Leah Bell, Tracy Gammell, Mary Leyden, Carol Music, Kim Nicholson, Sharon O’Connell, and Victoria Willits, who have worked tirelessly sorting and organizing the many clothes donations that have been received. Leah Bell created the Memorial Angel Wall.
Mariah’s Closet and Wheels for Change are located at 28712 Glebe Road, Suite #5 in Easton. Hours are by appointment only. For further information, visit mariahsmission.org or email Val Albee at email@example.com.