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Nonprofit groups discuss community issues at forum

April 27, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

Poverty, transportation, drug and alcohol abuse, and housing are just a few of the obstacles facing some Washington County residents.

Members of various nonprofit agencies assembled Wednesday at Hagerstown Community College to discuss these issues during the first Community Needs Assessment Forum. The Community Foundation of Washington County and the United Way co-hosted the event.

It was the first time the two organizations had come together to assess the needs of the county's nonprofit community in this way.

"When you have organizations like Community Foundation and United Way seeking information from those organizations on the front lines, we can determine where the most crucial needs are," United Way Executive Director Dale Bannon said. "This is a vital step."

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Carolyn Brooks, program coordinator of C-SAFE, said prevention is key. By reaching young children through after-school programs and youth programs, children can be reached early and become successful adults, she said.

William G. Christoffel, Washington County Health Department health officer, said teenage pregnancy is a major issue in the county.

"The highest rate of chlamydia is among 18- and 19-year-olds," he said. "That's not good."

Alcohol and drug abuse are other issues facing some county residents.

Susan J. MacDonald, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said the needs of the county's older residents vary based on income and health.

Most have needs ranging from housing and transportation to mental health services, MacDonald said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said most arrests in the city are related to drugs in some way.

"Our violent crime is between drug dealers," he said. "Robberies are to support drug habits."

Smith said Community Foundation and United Way resources would be best spent on preventative measures, such as after-school programs.

"Show them that the system has something for them," he said. "They can succeed in the system."

David A. Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services, spoke about the importance of schools, housing, transportation and mental health services.

The Community Partnership for Children and Families also was represented at the forum.

Brad Sell, executive director of the Community Foundation, said by identifying the greatest needs in the county, it would be easier for the Community Foundation and United Way to recognize where funding should go to create the best results for residents.

Both organizations typically identify those causes through survey data. Sell said the two were considering collaborating on their annual surveys this year.

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