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Don't sell MLK Center

April 14, 2006

Washington County Commissioner John Munson this week suggested that the county government could save $85,000 a year by selling or giving away Hagerstown's Martin Luther King Center.

He's correct, if all he's looking at are the costs. We hope that before the commissioners seriously consider the idea, they will also look at the benefits the MLK Center provides.

Between 170 and 200 children attend classes offered there four days a week by Head Start of Washington County.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Head Start was designed in 1964 to help children from low-income families get mentally and physically ready to begin public school.

The department's Web site notes that there has been 40 years of ongoing research into the program's benefits.

Most of the latest studies involve the beneficial effects of parents being involved in the education process in the classroom.

The involvement of fathers in the classroom, in particular, benefits a child's development, studies say.

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In addition to Head Start, the MLK Center is headquarters for the C-Safe program, formerly known as the Hagerstown HotSpot program, which was designed to build community and reduce criminal activity in an area which had been identified as having a high crime rate.

Caroyln Brooks, the program's director, has put together many community-building activities, including a dance troupe for young girls.

And then there is Children in Need, a nonprofit founded by Art Richards and others to ensure that children don't have to go to school in ragged clothes. Donated clothing is stored there and distributed to youngsters for free.

The MLK Center is also home to Brothers United Who Dare to Care, which runs an evening computer lab there to keep youth occupied and off the streets.

In addition to all this, there is the history of the building itself. It was once the North Street School, which educated black children prior to integration. To dispose of that building now would be to disown its history.

Not every county facility needs to turn a profit. Like a park, the MLK Center provides plenty to the community that can't be measured in dollars and cents.

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