A chance for candidates to pitch in

July 03, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Can the two front-runners in the Maryland governor's race help fight child abuse in Washington County? Connie Richards is hoping the answer is "yes."

Richards, president-elect of the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that helps prevent child abuse, has invited U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and their supporters to attend a fund-raising dinner Oct. 24 at Hagerstown's Sheraton Four Points.

Richards' idea is that the two political parties would join in a bipartisan effort to help reduce the $115,000 mortgage on the center's new Hagerstown headquarters at 998 Potomac Ave.

Is it far-fetched to believe that either would attend? Not as much as you might think. Last year, the agency put on a volunteer appreciation dinner, keynoted by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, whose speech delighted the crowd of more than 200.


Richards is hoping the candidates attend, because the Parent-Child Center's programs has grown to the point where there was a need to make a move. Founded in 1983, the agency had shared quarters with another agency, worked out of donated space or rented its own offices.

Its last address, a second-story office on Hagerstown's West Washington Street, could only be reached by navigating one of two steep staircases, which meant that those bringing in donations for its clients - diapers, baby clothes and the like - had a long tough climb.

Once inside, there was little room for storage, which meant the conference room became a mini-warehouse, making meetings with clients and staff difficult. Nor was there any place to conduct parenting classes.

The agency searched for new space downtown, with a view toward buying a property. But the board, led by its president, Bob Fennel, a local real estate appraiser, found much of what was available was either unaffordable or tied up in leases.

Then the Washington County United Way decided to move from the historic Potomac Street house that had been donated to it by a local doctor. The Parent-Child Center board seized the chance and bought it for $95,000.

An inspection found that despite some minor roof leaks, the building is structurally sound. But looking ahead, the center borrowed additional money to upgrade the building's badly chipped old wood siding, and its old windows, which aren't as energy-efficient as those made today.

Getting all of this done while running the agency's various programs is a big task. But Executive Director Millie Lowman is confident, because she's already experienced what she terms a couple of small miracles.

The first came soon after the move, when she received a phone call from a woman who said that her boss passed by the building every Sunday on his way to church and was cconcerned about how the old place looked. What are your plans to fix it up, the woman asked.

Lowman told her caller that the Parent-Child Center was just a small non-profit and was applying for some grants to upgrade the property. Maybe we can help, her caller said.

It turned out that the caller's boss was David K. Krehbiel, plant manager of Certain-Teed Products Corp., which makes vinyl siding and windows in its plant in Williamsport. Krehbiel said the center would donate enough siding to cover the house.

Krehbiel explained that "we work with United Way and we got to know the director (James Taylor) during the last campaign. We had a concern that the building looked dilapidated and so we put together a program to donate the siding."

Krehbiel declined to put a dollar figure on the donation, but did say that the three-story property will require enough siding to do two to three normal homes.

"I consider it truly a miracle that he would call four days after we moved in. It's a blessing," Lowman said.

Lowman's second surprise involved a young man who'd gotten in some trouble in another state as a youth and been sentenced to do community-service hours that he'd never completed. Recently he was informed that if he didn't do them, he'd lose his Maryland driver's license. And so he turned to the Parent-Child Center.

He built a partition in one room, enclosed an electrical box in the conference room in a cabinet and erected many shelves in the basement, which will serve as a clothing closet for infants and toddlers.

"He was required to complete 100 hours, but he spent the whole month of May here," Lowman said.

Despite these unexpected surprises, Lowman said the center needs to reduce the mortgage to the point where the building will cost the agency no more each month than it once paid in rent. Hence the October event.

Even if neither candidate shows, the cause is still a good one, which is why I've helped raise money for the center for the past 10 years. For tickets, send $25 apiece to the Parent-Child Center, 998 Potomac Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21742. For more information on the event or the center's programs, you can write to the same address or call (301) 791-2224.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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