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Volunteers show kids the right path

September 03, 1998

Bob MaginnisSometimes what gets covered by newspapers depends on whether there's enough staff to cover every event of a similar nature. Put another way, if I come to your fund-raiser, I ought to go to everybody's.

It's humanly impossible, of course, to do everything, but after I agreed to attend the Women's Christian Temperance Union awards ceremony in Smithsburg last month, I found that sometimes it pays to go against your instincts.

The WCTU is an international women's organization whose members believe in total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and who work to spread that point of view. The group grew out of the Women's Temperance Crusade of 1873, which featured women church members marching into saloons, singing hymns and asking the barkeeps to stop selling liquor.

The crusade swept 23 states, according to the World Book Encyclopedia, and the group was instrumental in promoting passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol from 1920 until its repeal in 1933.

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There is a chapter now in Smithsburg, made up mostly of older women, according to Virginia Harshman, who says that it's the total abstinence that young women find difficult to accept, since it means not even an occasional glass of light wine.

Nevertheless, the group perseveres, and holds an annual coloring contest for Smithsburg-area children that grew out of the Harshman family's long-time trick-or-treat tradition.

The "treats" at Harshman's house always consisted of homemade popcorn and a sheet for children to color with their crayons. Now the sheets have pictures of clowns and other characters counseling children to stay away from alcohol. The contest has divisions for first, second and third grade, with the pictures in each division more detailed than those in the previous one.

As the young contest winners and their families file into the historical exhibit room in Smithsburg's Town Hall, they eye up a platter of homemade brownies and tinker with a couple of interactive toys on display on a counter top.

Inside the case are a group of old toys that once were Mrs. Harshman's. She and her husband recently moved from the Water Street home where they lived for more than 40 years to stay with their son in Frederick County. As she sorted through their belongings prior to the move, she decided the old toys should go to the town's exhibit, where generations to come can see what yesterday's playthings looked like, and marvel at the fact that they survived intact for so long.

She does not say so, but it must be little sad for a person so involved in the life of a town - she volunteers at the town's food bank and is active in a local church - to move away from it. But if that is her thought, her actions don't betray it.

As she talks to the children, she smiles and laughs as Mayor Tommy Bowers tries, without success, to convince a tiny little girl that the freckles on her cheeks are rust marks caused by a failure to dry her face carefully after washing it. The child, only slightly larger than one of the dolls in the exhibit case, looks at her mom and giggles, but isn't buying the mayor's story.

Bowers' talk turns a bit more serious then, telling the children that he doesn't drink alcohol.

As the former police chief, he has to hope his good example means something and that the children winning prizes on this day will stay as innocent as they are.

In church basements and meeting rooms all over Washington County and the region, there are people like Virginia Harshman working with and encouraging young children as Scoutmasters, church youth group leaders and mentors, hoping that what they do will keep youngsters doing the right thing. It is not something we can cover every day, but I do it today to remind you that our quality of life depends in large part on this army of quiet volunteers working to keep kids on the right path.

Bob Maginnis is editor of the Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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