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Bannon: Fighting poverty here will take more work

September 21, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

Dale Bannon might have left his job as local United Way director for a job at the Washington County Public Schools, but he hasn't abandoned his commitment to reducing the local poverty rate.

Bannon, now director of system development for the school system, took his message to members of the Women's Giving Circle on Wednesday at the Fountain Head Country Club.

WGC members began meeting in June 2003 out of concern that while there were groups helping women here, there wasn't enough focus on creating long-term solutions to the problems they face.

The group began by recruiting 40 women and asking them to pledge $1,000 each over three years. That money was invested with the Community Foundation of Washington County Md. Inc.

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WGC grants this year included a $1,000 award to Girls Inc., to help girls achieve their dreams through planning and goal setting and $1,000 to Antietam Healthcare Foundation to fund behavioral health classes for 22 at-risk women.

But based of what Bannon said, those and other awards don't begin to cover the needs of young women in this community.

"We have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state of Maryland and we have one of the highest rates of free-and-reduced meal rates in our schools," Bannon said.

And, Bannon said, many local children entering kindergarten are deemed "not ready to learn."

Bannon asked Jeanne Singer, WGC's co-founder, about local child abuse.

"There were 935 severely and sexually abused children last year," she said.

And, as if that weren't enough bad news, he said there are 70-plus children in Washington County who are homeless.

Most of them are living with a parent's friends or relatives, Bannon said, but those at-risk families are just "one argument away" from being turned out into the street.

"You may be saying, 'Where are the solutions?'" he asked.

"I believe all of these things we talked about are related to teen pregnancy," he said.

In Washington County, there are not enough temporary shelter beds for women and their children and the time limits are too short to effect the kind of changes needed, Bannon said.

In Lakeland, Fla., where Bannon served as a captain in the Salvation Army, he described a program that created 12 units for women with children who needed long-term shelter and other kinds of help.

Those who lived there had day care available, Bannon said, and they had to have a job and maintain their sobriety.

The women also had mentors and educational opportunities, he said.

He described one of his clients who began as a counter worker at McDonald's and worked her way up to manager.

Getting such things accomplished isn't easy, Bannon said, and it takes more than the three to six months most local shelter programs limit women to.

"It takes more time and energy on the front end," Bannon said.

Bannon's talk didn't end with a sales pitch for a new local organization, which is a good thing. There are many local organizations, including Girls Inc., the Salvation Army and the Parent-Child Center, working to help single mothers with their daily struggles.

What it will take is for a group such as WGC to look at what happened in Lakeland, then find the means to get an existing agency to take on the task here.

Will it be easy? No, but neither was starting an agency to shelter victims of local domestic violence 30 years ago, when CASA - Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused - was founded.

For more information, call the Community Foundation of Washington County at 301-745-5210 or e-mail womensgiving@hagcomfound.org.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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