Joining forces to build a home and a better community as well

February 04, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

If you've ever worked on a project with a bunch of volunteers, you know this truth: There's no better way to learn about your fellow human beings than to do manual labor with them.

It doesn't matter what faith or race you are, when it's time to sweat, those things become less important than getting the job done. And in the process, a funny thing happens - we all learn that we're more alike than we are different.

That's why I supported the idea of the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County joining with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to build a house. We've talked about our differences a great deal. Now it's time to explore what we can do if we work together.

The steering committee held its first meeting recently at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, where Sherry Brown Cooper, Habitat's executive director, told those members new to the experience just what's involved.


Fortunately, this won't be the first time. Habitat has worked out basic home designs, a list of materials that will be needed and most important, a list of volunteer jobs to make the project go.

There's the project leader, who has overall responsibility for getting things organized; the house leaders, who oversee volunteer activities and make sure the house is built to Habitat standards and crew leaders, who handle specific construction activities.

There are also leaders in the area of procurement, fund-raising, volunteers, hospitality and publicity. That last one is me, so you'll be hearing more about this project in this column as the months go by.

Part of what will happen is that volunteers will be going to the community, seeking donations of building materials, labor and money. If you respond, you'll be helping a family get a decent house, though not a fancy one, at a price they can afford.

If you come out to help, you may even be entertained by the sight of me trying to do something that requires some skill. That is a scary prospect, since my children used to call me "Captain Crunch" and not because I resembled a sweet breakfast cereal.

More seriously, though, working on this project or other Habitat homes is not like working on other tasks, in which you can spend a whole lot of time and end up accomplishing very little.

When this project is done, there will be something tangible and valuable that you can say you had a part in creating.

For lists of building materials that are needed, contact me at 301-791-7622 or by e-mail at

If you'd like to get involved, the next steering committee meeting is Monday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, located at the corner of Washington and Mulberry streets.

Tom Janus, a Washington County School Board candidate, called me this week to say that it took him two weeks to get approval to attend meetings of the board's finance and curriculum subcommittees.

After two staff members told him the meetings were closed to the public, Janus said he asked them if they were sure. They then checked with the board's lawyer, who told them that yes, the meetings should be open.

Bernadette Wagner, a board member who serves on the policy committee, said that although state law does not require that the meetings be open, because there is no quorum of members, local policy does. That will be clarified and the meeting times posted on the board's Web site, she said.

Asked what he expected to see when he attends, Janus said that "I expect to hear some real detailed analysis and probing questions...a lot of detail and some brain-storming."

Thanks to Wagner for her work in clarifying the open-meeting policy.

The "State of the County" program scheduled for yesterday by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce was cancelled because of the wintry weather and rescheduled for Feb. 17.

Unfortunately, I'll be on assignment that day, so I won't be able to ask County Commissioners Greg Snook and William Wivell what they meant last month when they said they'd like to see more "cooperation" from the Hagerstown City Council.

Could someone ask that question for me? If what they're seeking is reasonable, then the community can begin persuading the council to go along.

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