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Health Department's decision to deny grants prompts protest

December 30, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Holding signs that read "They won't help us" and "Who cares about us?" a group of 12 children protested in front of the Washington County Health Department on Friday afternoon for about 20 minutes, protesting a Health Department decision to reject grant proposals.

Most in the group are affiliated with the Hagerstown-based organization Brothers United Who Dare to Care. The group requested $8,000 to create a computer lab, in which an after-school program would have been dedicated to creating an anti-smoking Web site.

The grant money being dispersed was from the state's Cigarette Restitution Fund, and must be used for programs that help to prevent smoking or educate the public about its dangers.

"We feel today that we had to take a stand because they rejected a request for our children," said Andy Smith, president and executive director of Brothers United Who Dare to Care.

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The children lined up holding their signs along Pennsylvania Avenue. Chants of "Honk the horn" caused some passers-by to comply, and most drivers seemed to slow and read the signs.

Near the end of the protest, a few members of the group submitted a letter, written on a piece of poster board, to Rod MacRae, public information officer for the Health Department. MacRae said he will make sure the acting health officer sees the letter.

Carissa Smith, 14, was one of the main authors of the letter. She and most others who signed the letter wrote of their displeasure that the computer lab grant was not awarded. Several used the word "mean" in the letter, referring to the Health Department.

Carissa Smith said the after-school computer lab program would have been a safe, educational place for children to go after school, keeping them off the streets.

"I thought that that (grant proposal rejection) was unfair," she said.

Andy Smith, her father, said about 15 children are in a youth group related to the computer lab proposal.

MacRae said an outside panel of community members reviewed all of the grant proposals vying for around $43,000 total in funding, and that Brothers United Who Dare to Care's proposal simply did not rank as high as others.

He declined to say which groups were awarded funding, citing the fact that not all had been notified yet.

Smith questioned whether the grant was rejected because it was submitted by a minority organization, and said that other proposals submitted by minority organizations also were rejected.

MacRae denied any notion that race played a part in deciding whether organizations received funding or not.

"I'm certain not," he said.

MacRae said the selection panel has a tough job.

"It's unfortunate when there's not enough money to fund every program that might do good," MacRae said. "I appreciate anyone willing to work for the benefit of the children."

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