Community must find a way to help Holly Place residents

September 18, 2008

In old age, most people are able to patch together some semblance of a financial and emotional network to provide for their care.

However, it almost goes without saying that a few can not.

There are no savings and no money beyond a paltry Social Security check and ever-dwindling government safety nets. Family may have moved away. Friends may have passed on.

It's a fearful place to be: Old and all alone, without the resources for even the most basic nursing-home care.

You may be an honorable person who has lived an honorable life, getting by as best you can. And now, when you need it most, there is no help and nowhere to go.

Except for Holly Place, an elder-care unit of last resort on Potomac Street in Hagers-town, which each year must fight and claw for just enough dollars to remain operative.


Holly Place North shut down in 2006, and Holly Place itself - with its 14 residents and a waiting list of nearly that many more - faces the same fate if it can't find another $160,000 for the coming year.

Doug Wright Jr., board president for Holly Place, says "That's a huge number and we have to work awfully hard."

To clarify, it's a huge number for Holly Place only - in government and elder-care circles, it's an incredibly small amount. It's shameful if the community cannot raise that money and more to protect some of our most fragile and vulnerable citizens.

The most recent snub came from the Washington County Gaming Commission, which distributes more than $1 million annually to charities, courtesy of tip-jar taxes.

The Gaming Commission has no easy job; for every dollar it has available to distribute, it has $3 in funding requests. And probably every group that makes a funding pitch is deserving in its own way.

At a glance, most of the commission's big-ticket distributions reflect well-placed priorities. The Community Free Clinic, REACH caregivers, Friends of Safe Place, Girls Inc., Food Resources - it's hard to argue with any of those choices.

The problems come further down the list.

Wright noted that youth sports cumulatively received $84,000 from the commission this year, while Holly Place was being shut out. Youth sports are important - unless they are contrasted against the prospect that helpless, elderly people might be turned out on the street. Then they become significantly less so.

The money is important for Holly Place, but so is the story the money, or lack of it, tells. It's a reflection of just how desperate these people are that they have no unified constituency to lobby on their behalf. No friends or relatives to champion their cause. No PR department. No political leverage whatsoever.

And that's exactly why they need the help.

This is an oversight the Gaming Commission cannot repeat. Holly Place is a lonely, quiet agency, whose wheels do not squeak, despite the fact that they are in dire need of grease. Were it not for some generous givers in the community and the work of tireless volunteers such as Wright, the wheels would have fallen off long ago.

The Gaming Commission is a quasi-governmental agency, and as such it is charged with the governmental responsibility of protecting the vulnerable in order of their vulnerability.

A couple of years ago, a church helped organize a major drive to provide Christmas gifts for Holly Place residents. The residents were thrilled with the gifts - which were simply new sheets for their beds.

This demonstrates both the basic level of need, along with the fact that Holly Place does not ask for much. But the service it provides to a handful of the community's most down-and-out has no price.

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