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Kendel Ehrlich to appear here Oct. 24

October 02, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Kendel Ehrlich missed our first appointment for an interview, but it was not because she'd gotten caught up in her husband Robert's campaign for governor. It was something far more important; her small son Drew had a fever and mom had to take him to the doctor.

We finally connected last Friday, the morning after her husband's bruising debate with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in front of a mostly hostile audience at Morgan State University.

Though she was hoarse and obviously tired, Mrs. Ehrlich still made time to talk about why she's agreed to appear at an Oct. 24 appreciation dinner for the Parent-Child Center, a Washington County United Way agency that works to combat child abuse.

Last year's dinner featured William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and now comptroller of the state. This year Connie Richards, president of the center's board, decided to try something different.

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Richards invited the state's Republican and Democratic parties to have their nominees for the governor's race appear, in an effort to drum up a friendly competition to see which party could sell the most tickets. She contacted the state leadership of both partries and both gubernatorial campaigns, but only Mrs. Ehrlich agreed to come.

Richards had a reason for trying to outdo last year's ticket total. In addition to honoring the volunteers, the center has moved into the building formerly used by the Washington County United Way at 998 Potomac Ave.

Richards explained that after spending years in a small downtown office and trying in vain to find a larger property the city could afford in the center city, the Parent-Child Center jumped at the opportunity when United Way opted for different quarters.

Volunteer labor has spruced up the interior and the local Certain-Teed plant has donated siding to cover the weathered exterior walls. But there's still the $115,000 mortgage, which the agency needs to reduce to keep operating expenses close to what they were in rented quarters.

Mrs. Ehrlich said she agreed to be a part of the Oct. 24 event because "We have as a priority the need to make sure those who are most vulnerable are safe."

As an attorney who served with both the public defender's and prosecutor's offices, she was never involved with any felony child abuse cases, but saw plenty of evidence in the courtroom of the effects of abuse on both the child and the officials who must deal with it.

She noted that a good friend, Terry Garland, helped set up Harford County's version of Washington County's Child Advocacy Center, where children are interviewed by police, social workers and prosecutors working together, so that the child isn't traumatized by repeated re-tellings of the same events.

Garland got the center up and running, Ehrlich said, but not without a lot of stress along the way.

"I saw the toll it took on her," Ehrlich said.

Volunteers of the Parent Child Center deal with the same sorts of stress, sometimes working directly with families for more than a year to teach them that it's possible to correct a child without resorting to mental or physical abuse.

People are often surprised when they learn that such parents aren't evil people, but behave that way because their own parents hit or belittled them. It's the cycle of abuse that the center's volunteers attempt to break, so that the next generation isn't facing the same problems.

As she sat in the courtroom, Ehrlich said she watched as the CINA (Children In Need of Assistance) cases came though with many children showing some signs of abuse, in many cases because one or both parents were substance abusers.

"It's not only abuse, but neglect as well. For many of us who don't live like that, it's very unsettling," she said.

Her own commitment to child welfare led her to accept an invitation to sit on the board of the University of Maryland Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, though she downplayed her own role.

"Most people have a strong dedication to help someone who is vulnerable. When I have an opportunity, if I can, I take it," she said.

Asked what she'd like to see done to combat child abuse, she said there was a strong need to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

"Behind a lot of domestic abuse, child abuse, there are often real problems with addictions," she said.

Centers like those in Harford and Washington counties are helpful, too, she said, adding that the work of the Parent-Child Center is also important.

"A lot of people who get involved in crimes and abuse are often in cycles they can't break, but one way or another, we have to help them," she said.

The Oct. 24 event will be held at the Sheraton Four Points under the sponsorship of the Hagerstown Exchange Club, a service group that has child-abuse prevention as its national priority.

For tickets, call 301-791-2224, or just send $25 for each ticket to the Parent-Child Center, 998 Potomac Ave., Hagerstown, MD, 21742.

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

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