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Friends of Safe Place work to make abuse disappear

March 14, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HAGERSTOWN -- The Maryland Theatre not only was a "safe place" Saturday night for youngsters and the young at heart, but a laughter-filled place, too.

The third Evening of Comedy & Magic presented by Friends of Safe Place, Washington County's child advocacy center, featured four magicians whose acts have been recognized nationally and around the world.

"They are working at a very reduced rate for us tonight," Jeanne Singer, president of Friends of Safe Place, said before the performances of world champion trick roper Chris McDaniel, world champion magician Arthur Trace, physical comedian and juggler Howard Mincone, and the Gulamerian Family and their show dogs.

Singer credited the support of R.G. Smith, the show's producer, director and master of ceremonies, for making the production possible.

Friends of Safe Place hoped to raise $7,500, but expected that goal to be challenged by the tough economy, which already had put a dent in the number of sponsorships.

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"We certainly will make at least what we made last year," Singer said.

The advocacy center, a community-based program, last year served 966 children who were reported to be victims of child abuse, Singer said.

"Unfortunately, Washington County consistently has one of the worse rates of child abuse in the state," Singer said.

Safe Place's mission is committed to reducing the trauma to children in a child-friendly environment at its North Walnut Street facility through collaborative investigation, therapeutic/medical interventions and criminal prosecution of child abuse.

Partnering agencies with Safe Place include the Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Department, Maryland State Police, Washington County Department of Social Services and the State's Attorney's Office. Their in-kind services comprise much of the budget of about $800,000, Singer said.

The state's budget crunch has the advocacy center's supporters "keeping their fingers crossed" because the bulk of the center's budget comes from state sources, Singer said.

But Saturday evening was all about families and children having a good laugh, which came especially easy when unsuspecting members of the audience became part of the spectacle.

Among other stunts, McDaniel cracked a bullwhip in front of his face to whittle a painted noodle sticking out of his mouth, which he advised the audience not to try at home.

He then roped an audience member from across the stage multiple times until she was tied up, then had her hold a noodle in her bound and outstretched, albeit nervous, hands.

McDaniel, who has performed on "America's Got Talent" and "The Late Show with David Letterman," deftly shortened the noodle after a few loud cracks of the whip.

The crowd was delighted, and the woman obviously was relieved.

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