Habitat, the hospital and 9/11 flags

July 14, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

When I first heard Habitat for Humanity's executive director, Sherry Brown Cooper, talk about the fellowship that develops when Habitat crews are building a home, I believed it would be an ideal project for the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County.

The group, formed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to increase understanding between those of different faiths, has already had many events to explore the differences of faith and culture. Building a house together, I hoped, would deepen that understanding and the friendships that have already begun to form.

Unfortunately, the project has been the subject of a legal challenge by a woman in the Boonsboro neighborhood where the home would be built. I won't recount that here, or attempt to argue in favor of the project.

I would like to say, however, that those who wanted to build this house were not interested in profit, but in helping a family of modest means get a home they could afford.


In that spirit, Habitat will hold a groundbreaking ceremony this coming Sunday, July 18, at 3 p.m. at the site, which is on an alley off Boonsboro's St. Paul Street.

From Hagerstown, take Alternate U.S. 40 to the square in Boonsboro, then take a left on St. Paul Street. The site is on the second alley to the left. I recommend that those who attend park along St. Paul Street.

The controversy surrounding this project has been a mixed blessing. While it's forced Habitat officials to pay lots of attention to matters not related to the actual construction, it's also brought many volunteers to the group.

But there's also a need for money for this project. The house is being produced in kit form by a nonprofit organization, saving thousands of dollars. But there's still a need for about $50,000.

To raise that, the group is looking for 50 houses of worship, organizations or individuals to raise or contribute $1,000 apiece. If there's anything I dread, it's asking people for money, but I will be one of those 50.

If you can help, please contact me at 301-791-7622, or by e-mail at Habitat's local office phone number is 301-791-9009. Habitat's e-mail address is

The most difficult task facing the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition, a business group formed to help win approval for Washington County Hospital's move, will be to convince the public it's necessary.

Why bother with the public when it's Hagerstown's elected officials who are objecting? Because elected officials pay attention to their constituents and if a bunch of them say "enough," the council will yield.

To get that constituent support, the coalition needs to tell city residents how medical care will improve as a result of the move.

In a sense, the hospital is a victim of its own good publicity. Enough city residents have seen the billboards heralding the fact that the hospital has been named one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation for its size to ask this question: Why, if the care is so good now, does there need to be a change?

The city's most indefensible action throughout this struggle has been the presentation of a wish list of 17 conditions for approving the hospital move.

The list, which includes a request that the city purchase a downtown motel and demolish it to create a parking lot, was not produced in a strategy meeting, but passed around so that council members could add their own favorites. It may have some use as a barometer of how eager the hospital is to agree, but it doesn't say much for the administration's expertise in deal-making.

There are four or five items, tops, that are relevant, and these include traffic access to the site, transportation for older residents - already promised - and utility and zoning issues. The city government can get agreement on these if that's what it wants. If it insists on all the others, its good faith will be in doubt.

On Saturday, my son and I worked with a crew of about 10 Hagerstown Exchange Club members to take down the "Healing Field" display of 3,000 U.S. flags at Antietam National Battlefield.

Each flag represented one person killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On Saturday, we took down the flags that had not been sold, rolled them up and wrapped them in plastic for storage in a local warehouse.

At first the day was festive, like a July 4 parade, with all the flags flapping in the breeze. But then as my son and I began to roll them up, we read the tag on each one containing the name, age and hometown of each victim. We both got quiet after that, remembering 9/11 and its aftermath.

Like Antietam, where there are only the monuments and plaques to tell visitors that anyone died there, the flags were our only reminder of the 9/11 victims.

The motto of the event was "We can all heal without forgetting." Just as we remember our veterans on Memorial Day, we also need to remember these victims and the fact that on another day, with a different terrorist plan, it might have been any one of us.

If you missed the event, but would like a flag, please call 301-791-2224.

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

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