In transforming our city, it's important to leave no one behind

May 21, 2006|by Linn Hendershot

For nearly a year, I've been working two or three days a week in the heart of downtown Hagerstown on a variety of projects helping to breathe new life back into our great city.

During this time, I've learned a lot about the people who live in and around the square. I wish that our citizens had the opportunity to meet and learn to understand the plight of these fine people, who live in such places as Alexander House, Elizabeth Court, Potomac Towers and Walnut Towers.

Around the square, I've forged a friendship with a gentleman who joined the Army at the age of 15 and had earned the rank of captain while serving in Vietnam. And yes, he was awarded not one, but three Silver Stars. Due to a stroke, this hero's life changed dramatically. He now uses a power wheelchair and has great difficulty with his speech.

There's a retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who takes dialysis three times weekly, but always meets you with a smile and is a true ambassador for the downtown core.


There's the young nurse's aide from the Washington County Hospital who battles MS and who has won the hearts of those who really know our downtown.

And then, there's young Mike, who makes numerous trips weekly, either walking or riding on the Washington County Commuter to grocery stores and Wal-Mart for many of the downtown residents who don't have family support or are just out-and-out stranded.

Personally, I would like to commend many of our Hagerstown residents, the majority of our City Council and the City of Hagerstown administrator for having the foresight to form a committee to help focus on how all of us can participate and build our community.

If we're going to "build our community," don't forget our senior citizens who, for a wide variety of reasons, have many issues due to failing health and our folks with disabilities, who struggle daily in hopes of improving their quality of life.

As a city, we have a long way to go on this subject in the area of sensitivity. We have a City Hall that is minimally accessible. We're currently building our first accessible bathrooms at City Park.

We have 16 parks and playgrounds, Municipal Stadium, Hagerstown Greens at Hamilton Run and Potterfield Swimming Pool, but the only accessible restrooms are currently at Municipal Stadium or at the softball facility at Fairgrounds Park. The Fairgrounds Park facility was made possible due to a gift from CitiCorp.

During a recent City Council budget hearing, I noted that the council did leave funding for new bathrooms at heavily-used Wheaton Park, but cut funding for ramping at Potterfield Pool.

The pool has an antiquated lift that was put into service some 15 years ago when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. The lift is unsafe and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be licking its chops if it knew that federal and state funding had been used through the years on this facility with absolutely no concern to accessibility issues. Folks, this is wrong, very wrong.

We've removed the benches downtown, so the "undesirables" don't hang out. For the record, many of these supposed "undesirables" are the ones I introduced you to earlier in this piece.

One of my colleagues here in Hagerstown always reminds me that, in his opinion, most people will do the right thing if they know what the right thing is. I think he's right.

One example of this took place recently when the Maryland Theatre was ridiculed publicly by the City Council for the theater's alleged mistreatment of a child with a disability. Everyone on the council was apologizing to the mother and one councilmember even threatened to pull $15,000 of proposed funding for the Maryland Theatre from this year's budget. Right there on old Channel 6 in living color, everyone was quick to pass judgment and point the finger.

To Brian Sullivan's credit (Brian's the new director of the Maryland Theatre), he was on the phone immediately to right the issue. Since that time, I've met on three occasions with Sullivan, along with others who are familiar with a wide variety of disability issues, in an effort to build a better community by being proactive, instead of overreacting and looking for someone to blame.

Sullivan is currently organizing a unique workshop for all areas of our community so we can better serve all our citizens.

Hats off to Brian and the Maryland Theatre for taking the bull by the horns. He's not hiding under a rock and looking for a scapegoat as many are, but truly working hard to build a better community.

From 1992 to 1996, I served on the Atlanta Olympic Committee's Committee on Disability Access (CODA) to assure that the 26 sports venues were totally accessible for people of all abilities for the Centennial Games.

Working hand in hand with the Civil Rights Division of DOJ, the challenges were many and discussions sometimes very heated. We were cutting new trails with the ADA coming on line in 1992 after being passed into law two years earlier.

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