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Leo Zerhusen, Carol Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award

Photo by David Trozzo

Compassion. It’s a word that describes Leo Zerhusen’s life and what led to his founding of HOPE For All 18 years ago. By harnessing the power of a network of volunteers, governmental and nonprofit partners, churches, and local businesses to provide for the basic needs of people in Anne Arundel County, Leo has changed thousands of lives. Through his organization, he has provided people with essential furniture and household goods, and delivered clothing, shoes, and winter coats to school children and people in crisis, creating an indispensable resource for people in need. 

The familiar routes the homeless have to travel include living in their cars, with family, and in motels, before they get a home of their own. When they finally do have their own place, many have nothing but the clothes on their back. With HOPE’s signature Turning Houses Into Homes program, Leo changed all of that by encouraging people to donate their gently used goods, connecting people who had more than they needed to provide for those who had little. To date, 70 local partners rely upon HOPE For All to serve the people they work with. 

Starting HOPE was not without its challenges. Leo worked as a teacher in the early years, and his students, families, and church members enthusiastically donated goods, however, his basement quickly filled up. He was able to obtain free storage space at EJ Enterprises until that business closed. Then, Leo figured out a way to rent space by using funds from auctions, yard sales, individual donations, and later corporate giving. Leo served as HOPE’s Executive Director from its inception in his basement in 2004 until 2019 and never took a salary from the nonprofit. 

To locate people who needed assistance, Leo set up a network of area agencies, multiple county agencies, churches, and nonprofits such as Arundel House of Hope and Light House Shelter, to help. Leo also inspired local businesses to make financial donations. Grantors, including CFAAC’s Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, also offered generous support.

Every year Anne Arundel County Public School system (AACPS) children account for more than half of the nonprofit’s clients. 

“HOPE for All works with our schools countywide,” said Carol Anne McCurdy, AACPS Director of Partnerships, Development, and Marketing. “I don’t believe the word ‘no’ is in Mr. Zerhusen’s vocabulary because he always seems to find time to get children and families what they need.”
Leo’s idea of HOPE For All—to improve the quality of people’s daily lives through donations from the community—has also inspired area youth to get involved. From Eagle Scouts building shelves and tables to the many students collecting donations and volunteering, Leo has been a model for the next generation to carry on his selfless service to others. 

“Through his persistent advocacy for the most vulnerable in our area, Leo has built a coalition of caring throughout the community,” said nominators Connie Cooper and Linda Swenson.
Arundel House Executive Director Mario Berninzoni agreed: “Anne Arundel County is a better community because of Leo.”

HOPE for All has been Leo’s life’s work, improving the lives of thousands of county residents while also creating a network of caring for future generations. Many people, who had nothing, now have hope and a future because of Leo’s work, dedication, and compassion.

Leo was nominated by HOPE for All.

Learn more about Leo and his amazing generosity at the 22nd Annual Celebration of Philanthropy on November 3rd.

The Carol Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award is named in honor of the late Carol Thompson, the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County's Founder and its first Executive Director. It is presented to an individual who has made lasting, significant, and impactful contributions to Anne Arundel County by advancing philanthropy through long-standing leadership, creativity in responding to societal problems, and bringing leaders, philanthropists, volunteers, organizations, and businesses together.

Go back to 2022 Awardees