People to Watch
Put a chef, a blogger, a nonprofit leader, a community activist and an addictions professional all in one room and what do get? Well, this year’s “People to Watch.” Perhaps our most eclectic “People to Watch” group yet, this year’s class covers the range of Frederick County, both geographically and socially. But each person shares a passion for making their community a better place—and that has been the foundation of “People to Watch” for decades.
By Guy Fletcher and Nancy Luse. Photography by Turner Photography Studio
Chef and Owner, Cucina Massi
Massimo Liberatore, chef and owner of Cucina Massi, 11 E. Patrick St., grew up in the restaurant business, his family owning several restaurants in the greater Baltimore area for more than 35 years. He worked for his father starting at the tender age of 12 and although he liked the experience, didn’t consider it as a career. Instead, he leaned toward commercial real estate after college. But a slow job market and the listing of the former Nido’s restaurant led him back to the family business. “We saw so much potential in Nido’s and I wanted to be a part of it,” Massimo says. “It flipped a switch in me.”
FM: Who was your inspiration? Did you cook at the feet of family members?
Massimo: My father inspired me. He started when he was 24, just like me. He’s built an amazing life for us from his restaurant, and I am forever grateful for it. He does everything at his place from working the door to being the creative genesis for their daily dinner specials and menu changes. He does it all and continues to have the energy of a 5-year-old.
I never really cooked at anyone’s feet, but I did see how my Nona cooked. We lived very close to my grandparents, so I was there often helping take care of them (and raiding the fridge). I saw how my grandmother made some of our favorite foods that you would never see on a restaurant menu. I used to love her homemade potato gnocchi. We used to always make homemade wine every year and prosciutto and capocollo. We barely ever drank store-bought wine or ate any cured meat that wasn’t homemade.
FM: Are there family recipes at play in your restaurant?
Massimo: Most of our dishes are family recipes and so are our sauces. Marinara and vodka sauces are family recipes as are our soups. Capellini caprese is a family recipe and a fan favorite.
FM: What is it about Italian food that makes most people’s mouths water?
Massimo: It’s comfort food and, after eating, it’ll most likely put you to sleep. What’s not to love about any of it? All so simple in their origins but so complexly tasty.
FM: You are known as a chef who jumps in and buses tables when needed. Is this part of your work ethic? What else comes into play?
Massimo: I do whatever needs to be done. I have great people in both the front and back of the house, so I’m not stuck in one position. I spend most nights expediting and food running because it gives me the opportunity to do so many things at once. I see the food coming out of the kitchen, deliver it to tables and interact with our guests and can help clear tables on my way back in—perfect. I don’t like to sit still.
FM: Is there a special meal in your life that stands out?
Massimo: If I could have one more Sunday at my grandparent’s house with the whole family at the table, with Sunday red sauce, homemade meatballs and antipasti still left on the table that would be it. My grandparents have since passed, but we still carry on the tradition at home. Surrounded by family, eating al dente pasta in red sauce that we made with the tomatoes we prepared and jarred in the summer is all I could ever ask for. We miss them both dearly. Their picture is in our front dining room in the restaurant.
Director, Alan P. Linton Jr. Emergency Shelter
A native of Frederick County, Kavonté Duckett was raised by a village that included his family, friends, neighbors, mentors and others who took interest in his wellbeing. For him, they were the driving force that provided support, encouragement and accountability. With this type of help, Kavonté began learning about the importance of community at an early age. Whether it was his involvement in church, his participation in school via mentoring groups and afterschool activities, or his role as a member of a large and active family, he was raised to appreciate an obligation to contribute to the community’s success. Kavonté and his wife, Chantell, want their son, Micah, to grow up embracing those same values.
FM: Tell us more about your current position with the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs.
Kavonté: I began with the Religious Coalition in 2019 as the client service specialist and in 2020 was promoted to director of the Alan P. Linton Jr. Emergency Shelter. It’s hard to say what my day-to-day responsibilities look like since every day on the job is different. My primary role is to oversee the daily operations of the shelter and be a strong advocate for those who do not have one. Building connections with clients and volunteers and promoting the coalition’s mission of “preventing and alleviating the affects of poverty” is what I love most.
FM: Is it difficult?
Kavonté: I’d be lying if I said it was easy. The most frustrating part of the job is battling the misconceptions about people who are homeless. Each individual entering the shelter is on a unique journey and has their own story to tell. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and we have to think outside of the box to make sure each individual need is met.
FM: But is it rewarding?
Kavonté: Ironically, some of the most difficult parts of the job are also the most rewarding. Helping our clients refocus to regain control of their success is what motivates me to come back daily.
FM: Why are you running for the County Council? What is your vision for Frederick County?
Kavonté: My heart belongs to Frederick County and I am proud that my family has called Frederick home for seven generations. Our community has invested so much in me that I’ve committed my life to giving back. I understand the great things Frederick has achieved and know that even greater things are possible. Our campaign is focused on prioritizing affordable and creative housing options, ensuring safe schools and neighborhoods, addressing inequality and racial justice, investing in our businesses, protecting our seniors, expanding access to mental and behavioral health services, and advocating for everyone to have a seat at the table.
FM: Do you have any other community activities you enjoy? How do you spend your free time?
Kavonté: Where do I begin? Just to name a few I am the president of the Road Knights Car Club, Inc., member of Mountain City Lodge # 382 and serve on the board of directors for the African American Cultural and Heritage Society (AARCH). With my downtime, I enjoy spending time with my family, cruisin’ in my ’64, working on my golf swing and smoking a good cigar.
FM: You are wearing a medallion with a photograph. Who is the couple in the photo?
Kavonté: My late great-grandparents, Paul and Dot Bowie. They had a significant impact in my life. Everything I do is in honor of their legacy.
Vice President of Operations, Goodwill of Monocacy Valley
When the world shut down, Holly Schor was on the move, moving to Frederick to support the Goodwill of Monocacy Valley’s merger with a Goodwill organization in Arizona, where she had previously called home. The timing and scope of the move and merger were challenging enough, but her eyes are on a broader community beyond Goodwill. “I hope to start engaging in the community more now that [pandemic] restrictions seem to be lifting,” she adds. “I am anxious to connect deeper and start volunteering and giving back now as a Frederick resident.”
FM: Tell us about your current position with Goodwill.
Holly: In my current role I am responsible for supporting our local team by leading the efforts of building brand awareness, rebuilding a new mission services experience—which includes the exciting project of the Goodwill Main Campus and Platoon 22 Veteran Services Center at Goodwill—and creating an inviting work culture for all our team members.
The campus and Veterans Services Center have become a labor of love for our team. We are excited to partner with Platoon 22 on that portion of the building and cannot wait to see the impact it will make on the community. This building will also allow us to serve the community with workforce services and expand our retail footprint in the market as our ninth retail store location.
FM: What are the challenges with your job?
Holly: I think the most exciting challenge of my role is helping people understand the Goodwill structure. Many of my conversations end with, “I had no idea Goodwill did that,” because the brand is different depending on where you live. There are just over 150 regionally independent Goodwills in the world. Most Goodwills have some thrift retail component that is an aspect of their fundraising, and every Goodwill runs their retail operations in their own unique way. There is a saying I heard on my first day at Goodwill that still holds true today: “If you’ve seen one Goodwill, you’ve seen one Goodwill.”
FM: What are the rewards?
Holly: There are so many amazing rewards that come from my job—almost too many to list. If I had to pick just a few I would say our culture and development efforts, our team members, and the overall community impact. Goodwill has such a strong focus on culture and it really feels like a family. They have supported my development and created opportunities for me to grow in ways I never expected. It’s amazing to now have the opportunity to create a culture here that fosters and supports the future development of our team members.
FM: Tell us about some other activities in your life.
Holly: I am very lucky to share my life with my partner, Chris, who relocated with me to Frederick, along with our fur family members, Seamus and Lola. We like to spend our free time traveling and taking advantage of how accessible so many destinations are to where we live. We will rarely pass up an opportunity to enjoy some great food or take in some form of live entertainment. He is also a huge baseball fan and I can’t pass up an opportunity for some good ballpark food, so we’re really looking forward to becoming season ticket holders for the Frederick Keys this year.
FM: Being a relative newcomer, what are your impressions of the community?
Holly: I grew up in a tightknit community in Northern California and Frederick County reminds me of all the things I loved about growing up there. I value the strong sense of community, the mix of city and rural living, and most importantly how passionate and proud the community members are.
Aaron Vander Meer
Program Director, ClearView Communities
Aaron Vander Meer’s off-the-beaten path career journey began with him teaching English at a university in Kazakhstan, where he ended up spending much time with the people in the neighborhood and helping them with basic human needs and access to care. This experience sparked a passion for helping people, and from there he has worked in the fields of substance abuse, juvenile justice, education and in mental health on five different continents. “I have spent my career meeting people where they are and trying to help them become the best version of themselves,” he says.
FM: Tell us more about your current position.
Aaron: I am the program director of ClearView Communities, a residential treatment program in Frederick for individuals with severe and persistent mental health disorders. I have been with ClearView since 2012. A big picture view of my role is I develop programs and a culture that fosters growth.
I have worked in various treatment services, including outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient programs and case management. The benefit of residential treatment is that it gives us a fuller perspective of how a person’s illness impacts all dimensions of their lives. This allows us to create a person-centered treatment plan to address the unique needs of each individual.
FM: Is it difficult working with people with so many challenges?
Aaron: We all have challenges in life, whatever they may be. We have all needed to learn how to best manage those challenges to be successful. That’s as true for me as the clients I work with.
It can be hard to always be giving to others if you’re not finding ways to take care of yourself. That has always been a challenge for me. I am still learning how to balance my needs with those of everyone around me. I’ve learned the hard way that neglecting my own self-care can have significant impact on other areas of my life. I’m getting much better at this, though.
FM: What are the rewards?
Aaron: Many of the people I’ve worked with have been told the lie that they are not good enough or not capable enough to live the life they choose. When people have that “a-ha” moment and see beyond their barriers to their inherent strengths, that is where the reward is.
This work forces me to create my own strong foundation to make sure I’m serving people well. So, another reward for me is that I am challenged to grow myself. Every new person I work with has their own story and perspective in life, and that has challenged me to constantly reassess my perspective.
FM: How do you spend your free time?
Aaron: I love being outside. Whether it’s hiking, at a backyard barbecue or being on the water. I also enjoy trying out different breweries and distilleries in the area. We’re lucky to have such great local options.
I’m involved with my church and volunteer with local organizations. I am also the vice president of the board of directors for Maryland Coalition of Families and serve on Hood College’s Social Work Advisory Committee.
FM: What is your vision for the future of treatment/rehabilitation?
Aaron: Treatment should be dynamic, experiential and focused on the whole person. To accomplish this, we need greater collaboration between agencies. We can’t be experts at addressing all aspects of a person’s needs. However, we can work with other experts to design treatments that match people’s unique needs.
Creator and Owner, OUT40 Blog
Kiki Wilson, who grew up on the west side of Frederick, always knew the city’s offerings of music and the other arts didn’t solely exist in Downtown, even with its galleries, theaters and music venues. So, she gathered other like-minded people who appreciated and supported the arts to launch OUT40, a music blog and website. OUT40 covers local hip-hop, R&B, jazz and other genres, but goes a step further to also cover the people in her part of town. She says it was “Frederick’s first urban blog” to cover “the arts, the streets and the people of Frederick.”
FM: What lit the spark to the creation of Out40?
Kiki: I was taught that in order to start a successful business, there must be an underlying need. Even as a high schooler 15 years ago, I noticed a lack of diversity in the prominent local media outlets and wanted to change that.
OUT40 holds a double meaning: It refers to the west side of Frederick—but it is a side of town that has historically been stigmatized, economically suppressed and overlooked until recently. Not only is OUT40 celebrating those who live there but is acknowledging the potential of a stifled community within the city and allowing the people and those who identify with them to be heard.
OUT40 spotlights the arts, streets and people of Frederick. We discover beauty and inspiration in the everyday places and faces we often pass, but do not see. Our mission is to build a regional platform that broadcasts the artistry, life and legacy of underrepresented communities in our city. OUT40 is the first local media outlet that houses art, entertainment, news and storytelling through the POC lens.
FM: What has been the feedback from the public?
Kiki: OUT40 has been influential in our niche within the city. A visionary space for the outsiders, OUT40 has been a voice for minority communities of Frederick for nine years. We provide a platform for societal leaps and bounds to progression by building a table at which all can sit. We have led important conversations, introduced unsung heroes to the masses and brought people together in a space of which they feel apart.
FM: What do you think is missing from the Frederick scene?
Kiki: I think that more entertainment and artistic development of the Golden Mile would be beneficial.
FM: What is your favorite part about Frederick?
Kiki: Frederick is a gem because I’ve seen how it has grown and changed over the past 20 years. I’m excited to see what else is in store.
FM: What would be your favorite way to spend a night out in Frederick?
Kiki: I’d start off with drinks at Capital Crave, head to dancing Downtown and end it with late-night grub. OUT40 covered the last item in a post called The Late-Night Food Run.
FM: What’s next for you?
Kiki: Establishing my professional career post-30, forging a path in the national media industry and figuring out OUT40’s next chapter.