By: Aidan Vogts and Mr. Illuzzi
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
The optimistic words of ancient Roman philosopher Seneca remind us that while change is inevitable, we should embrace life’s offering of unending possibilities and opportunities.
Steve Willingham certainly is.
After 34 years serving as an officer of the Howard County Police Department, 18 of which as Glenelg’s School Resource Officer, Willingham’s retirement on April 28 is just the beginning of the next chapter in his life as a school counselor.
It is a title and position that fits Willingham well, considering the common denominator between SRO and student services is the one facet he has based the majority of his career on: working with students.
“There’s a certain energy you get from students that sometimes doesn’t come from adults,” Willingham said. “While I am changing my job responsibilities, I am not changing my advocacy for students. I just get to do so in a more personal and direct manner as a counselor.”
Willingham has had many years to prepare for the change and he knows that being an SRO has given him the necessary experience of talking to students and parents.
“I am very excited for this opportunity,” he said. “Being an SRO has broadened my perspective and understanding of students. Through that role I’ve been able to work closely with student services and with students in crisis, and I want to continue to help students in any capacity I can.”
Willingham decided on the eventual career shift as early as 2011, but has been guided recently by counselor Steve Burnett, who praised Willingham’s dedication to students.
“Mr. Willingham is one of Glenelg’s advocates for students,” Burnett said. “He is amazing at building relationships and using his disposition as an SRO to not only help keep us safe but also to help students understand the role and impact of law enforcement on our society.”
Building relationships and being a positive change agent in the community have set Willingham apart, most evident in his receiving of the Community Officer of the Year Award for the second time, the other in 2009. Every officer in Howard County is considered for the award, but Willingham was chosen because of his involvement in the Glenelg and Howard County communities.
And it’s extensive.
In addition to being a patrol officer and SRO, Willingham has served as an elementary and middle school substance abuse teacher, youth program coordinator, police explorer advisor, and policy coordinator. Outside of his profession, Willingham is a Sunday school teacher, church youth group leader, Boy Scout assistant scoutmaster, a youth wrestling coordinator, and has coached baseball, soccer, and wrestling.
“I have enjoyed putting my time and commitment to the youth programs and the youth,” Willingham said about receiving the award. “It’s nice to see others recognize the importance between the police and young people.”
At Glenelg, Willingham has used his platform of connection and outreach as the advisor of
SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), which helps educate students about decision making.
During the week before prom, he and the club members bring awareness to the dangers of distracted and impaired driving through a ghost-out, accident response simulation, and an assembly with guest speakers.
“He takes pride in this club,” said junior co-president Kailey Kasbeer-Betty. “He leads by example and is a great role model for everyone in SADD. I will miss his advice and wisdom.”
Though Willingham has worked at Glenelg for his School Resource Officer career, he will most likely be a counselor at either a Carroll County school or another Howard County school.
"Any school will be lucky to have Officer Willingham as part of their staff," said Principal Shawn Hastings-Hauf. "I will greatly miss him, as will will the students and staff at Glenelg. We, as a school, have been so fortunate to have him as a part of the Glenelg community for so many years. The tremendous void left by his departure can be overshadowed only by the impact he has left upon us."
Regardless of where his next stop will be, based on his tenure at Glenelg, Willingham will continue to make his impact felt. It is his impact, though, coupled with his personality, that will be most difficult to replace.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Steve for over 15 years,” said front office secretary Diane Barnoski. “He has a personality that makes him easy to talk to. He is kind and very passionate about his job. I appreciate that he takes the time to listen and really tries to help a person out. He blends in easily with staff and works very hard on programs for the students. I will truly miss his smiling face, and I wish him the best of luck.”
We all do. Once a Glad, always a Glad.