By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO

Roberta’s House hosted its annual Elijah Cummings Leadership Awards and Dinner on April 15 to highlight the contributions of four honorees. 

The 2023 awardees were: Cecil Flamer, Cummings Leadership Award; Dr. Steven Sharfstein, Founders Award; St. Sen. Cory McCray, Torchbearer Award; and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Torchbearer Award. Each awardee, through their words and actions, demonstrated leadership in support of Roberta’s House mission to address the impact of grief, loss and trauma on the mental wellness of children, teens, adults and families.

The black-tie optional event, chaired by Mona Rock and honorary co-chairs, Joseph Haskins Jr. and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, widow of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, included an evening of tributes, entertainment and recognition of those who are making a difference at Roberta’s House. 

Through the generous support of city and state grants, foundations, corporations and community donors, Roberta’s House offers free community programs that address the unresolved grief which can lead to negative behavior and or poor health later in the lives of children, teens and adults.  These programs focus on teaching coping skills that lead to positive outcomes. They are led by licensed professionals and over 700 trained volunteers who understand the impact of grief. 

Annette March-Grier, president and co-founder of Roberta’s House, said,  “for years, there was no support for children and families suffering the loss of someone and we saw how grief was contributing to academic failure, dropping out of school.”

2023 Founders Award recipient Dr. Steven Sharfstein, with Roberta’s House President and Co-Founder Annette March-Grier., at the 2023 Elijah Cummings Leadership Awards and Dinner. (Photo by Stephen Hopkins)

“One thing that we learned is that grief leads to anger that can lead to violence,” she said. “Many families were suffering in silence, and when we suffer in silence, we internalize the pain and that in turn, can lead to poor health, mental health problems and so many other social ills that affect our community. There was such a need for grief education and grief support, and that’s how Roberta’s House got started,” she said. 

She said she modeled it after a grief center she found in another state that addressed multiple losses. 

“I brought that model back to Baltimore in 2007, and my family and I named it Roberta’s House in honor of my mother, serving thousands of families in their time of sorrow and loss.”

Grief services include adolescent and adult programs, summer camps, programs for moms who have lost an infant, support for homicide survivors, adults who have lost loved ones due to sickness, suicide and  drug overdose, she said.

Roberta’s House opened a 22,000-square foot state of the art grief center in Jan. 2021. The grief center is the first of its kind in the nation, with art activity rooms, a library resource center, multi-purpose room,  theater, fitness room, game room, expression room, conference rooms, family counseling rooms, and administrative offices.

The center currently serves an average of 2,000 families through its 13 grief support programs annually. The center is at 928 E. North Ave.  where March Funeral Home was originally founded in 1957.

“There is no work more important to the healing of Baltimore than the work that Roberta’s House is doing. As someone who has referred families to them for almost two decades, you’re talking about people who work with families at their lowest point,” said Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott.

“Time and time again I’ve heard people come back and say to me– whether they lost someone through gun violence or a tragic accident– that they are so thankful they went or were referred to Roberta’s House, because they didn’t know if they were going to be able to make it. Roberta’s House became a part of their family and helped them along in their healing journey,” he continued.