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It takes a community to teach a good example

March 31, 2006|by MARIE GILBERT

Carolyn Brooks can get passionate about ethical behavior.

Whether it's at home, in the classroom or the workplace, "think how much better society would be," she said, "if people would think about the choices they make and the ripple effect of those choices."

According to Brooks, it's all about character.

"We're supposed to learn about morals, values and ethics at home," she said. "But it's not always happening. Today, it takes a whole community - from teachers to businessmen to clergy."

Brooks is the president and founder of Character Counts!, a Tri-State coalition of human service and educational organizations working together to strengthen the character of young people, as well as adults.

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Members of the area coalition shared their concepts and strategies with the community at a program held Wednesday, March 29, at Elgin Station in Hagerstown. About 50 people representing nonprofit organizations, government, law enforcement, schools and churches attended the event.

The presentation was designed, Brooks said, to familiarize people with Character Counts! and to provide them with information and incentive to become involved.

"Many different agencies are represented here today," she said. "But we're all talking about the same thing - building good character in our community."

Brooks said the local Character Counts! organization is part of a national coalition that was developed in the early 1990s by the Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nonprofit and nonpartisan teaching organization based in Los Angeles, Calif.

The goal of the coalition is to improve the lives of both young people and adults by emphasizing "Six Pillars of Character" - trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Brooks said the local coalition has organized awareness walks and would like to get the word out in the future through community forums and the use of billboards.

According to the Character Counts! Web site, anyone can be a community advocate for character education, but membership in the coalition is reserved for schools and nonprofit organizations that integrate character education into new and ongoing programs.

Many of the country's leading educational and youth-serving institutions belong to the coalition, she said, including 4-H, Little League, the National Education Association and Boys and Girls Clubs.

Brooks said the local coalition became a reality in 1999, after she was hired as coordinator of HotSpots, a community-based, crime-prevention program now called CSAFE (Coordinated Supervision and Focused Enforcement).

"I looked at my responsibilities, I looked at the problems facing our community," she said, "and the thing that jumped out at me was social change. We need to get back to the basics."

The program originated in Washington County but over the years has expanded to also serve Berkeley County, W.Va., and Franklin County, Pa.

Hundreds of area citizens have received in-service training for Character Counts!, Brooks said, and have incorporated it in their school systems, nonprofit agencies and workplaces.

"By talking about values, about making good choices, hopefully, we can make a difference," she said.

Brooks encouraged those in attendance at Wednesday's meeting to sign on to the Character Counts! program.

"We want to engage the whole community in a team approach," she said. "By reaching our young people, we can help them make the right decisions and grow into good adults. By using the program in business, we can produce a better work force. I feel strongly that this program can benefit the whole community."

Also speaking during Wednesday's presentation was coalition members Bob Crider, principal of Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School, who discussed "How Can Character Counts! Fit Into Our Community?"; and Timothy Berry, administrator of Williamsport Retirement Village, who spoke on "Character Counts! Practically Applied."

Persons interested in receiving more information about Character Counts! may contact Carolyn Brooks at 131 W. North St., Hagerstown or call 301-739-8577, ext. 468.

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