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Richards sees center named in his honor

October 31, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

erinc@herald-mail.com

Holding his wife with his right arm, Art Richards reached for the white curtain and tugged.

His left arm moved to his mouth when he saw what was behind the sheet - a sign that read, "The Art Richards Center."

Turning his back to a crowd of about 50 gathered Sunday outside Children In Need Inc. on West North Street, Richards began to cry.

Richards founded Children In Need in 1998, the year he realized there were children in Washington County without socks, underwear or clean clothing.

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He heard stories of young children living in poverty, sharing clothes with siblings and skipping school because they lacked nice clothes - or any clothes at all - to wear to school.

That was when the sleepless nights began. Richards said he would wake up at night weeping. In his dreams, he saw children gathered around him, wearing torn clothing, often with no shoes or shirts.

Richards said he asked God for help, and was told to help the children.

"I'm going to help that little kid," he said. "I want him to be in school. That's our goal - to get the kids in school."

After Sunday's ceremony, Richards looked up at the sign acknowledging that the center would always bear his name. He shook his head back and forth in disbelief before bowing it slightly.

"It's not me," he said. "It's not mine. It's everyone."

In the beginning, everyone included Richards and three volunteers. Now, there are 12 full-time volunteers and a recently expanded space for them to work and store donations.

The organization serves at least 2,500 children.

"As long as I've got breath, I'm going to be here trying to do something for our kids," Richards said. "We're going to win the battle."

Children enrolled in Washington County schools who receive a free or reduced- price lunch are eligible for free clothing provided at Children In Need. Underwear and socks are bought with money donated to the organization.

Children In Need also gives $50 vouchers to Kmart to the area's most needy residents.

Richards said in addition to money, clothes, shoes and hygiene items, he has come across some rather odd donations. He said someone wanted to donate a bed.

"Well, I really didn't know what I was going to do with it," he said.

Richards took the bed and stored it in his garage. It stayed there two days before he got a call from someone saying on a recent visit to a family he saw small children sleeping on the floor.

"I said, 'Not anymore,'" Richards said.

Children In Need also received a donated violin, which it gave to a school music teacher, who found a need for it.

"It's people helping people," Richards said. "This thing, love, is very important."

Donations are accepted Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Richards World Travel, 1201 Potomac Ave. in Hagerstown. Monetary donations may be mailed or taken to the same address.

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