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A bargain for local citizens

July 29, 2003

Last week the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Community Foundation of Washington County announced that they would partner to pick a "Nonprofit of the Year."

Leaders of both groups said they hoped to raise awareness about philanthropy and what the agencies give to the community. But nonprofits should also be honored because they provide services that citizens would otherwise have to pay for through their taxes. For example:

- What would it cost to house the homeless - or jail them for vagrancy - if there weren't a network of volunteers operating the REACH cold-weather shelter?

- What would society have to pay for recreation programs for youths who might otherwise roam the streets if it weren't for groups like the Boys and Girls Club and Girls, Inc.?

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- Who would provide job training and other services to the disabled if Goodwill didn't do it?

- Who would tell students about the consequences of becoming parents at an early age if there were no Parent-Child Center?

- Who would shelter and counsel the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse if there were not an organization like CASA in this community?

The list of questions could go on and on, because there are more than 300 nonprofit groups in Washington County. With many good volunteers and lots of generous contributors, they make the community a better place, at a price much lower than it would cost government to do the same things.

Government often doesn't realize what a bargain nonprofits are. That's why when budgets get tight, sometimes elected officials' first move is to trim donations. It's easy to do, because nonprofit staffers don't publicly protest such decisions, though they do experience anguish over them in private.

If this chamber/foundation award does nothing else, we hope that it emphasizes that the services nonprofits provide aren't frills, but necessities and that those who contribute their time and money to help them are the community's real heroes.

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