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Arts, culture and tourism, public safety, and civic engagement make up community-related part of SCIP

One of the top public safety needs identified in the plan is not about who to help, but, in certain circumstances, who not to help

November 08, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Donna Staggers has a few laughs with her mentee E. Russell Hicks Middle School 6th-grade student Skyler Jenkins at their weekly meeting. This is their second year together. Matching volunteers with opportunities is one of the goals of the Strategic Community Impact Plan.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Editor's note: Leaders of the Washington County Strategic Community Impact Plan divided the plan's focus groups into three categories: people, families and community. This story features goals and strategies in the communities category. An overview of the SCIP project ran on Sunday, the people category was featured Monday, and the families category was featured Tuesday.

A new Strategic Community Impact Plan for Washington County is about improving the quality of life, but one of the top public safety needs identified in the plan is not about who to help, but, in certain circumstances, who not to help.

The plan includes a goal to seek legislation that would allow Emergency Medical Service, or EMS, providers to refuse to provide transportation in cases where a person does not have a true medical emergency requiring a physician's immediate assistance.

"It's not because we don't want to help people, but we need to be available for emergency calls," said focus group member Brigitte Heller, EMS coordinator for the Washington County Division of Emergency Services.

On busy nights and in remote communities, using an ambulance to transport a nonemergency patient — such as someone with nausea, someone who slipped in a nursing home, or an out-of-control child — can mean a later response to someone with a true life-threatening emergency, Heller said.

Yet, under current law, dispatchers and EMS responders have little discretion regarding these cases.

"What I really envisioned is ... if we get there and realize that there is no medical emergency, maybe they could get some token or something to take a cab, or something of that nature," Heller said.

That goal is one of 44 in the SCIP plan, which recently was completed through a process led by United Way of Washington County and the Community Foundation of Washington County. More than 200 volunteers met for more than a year to develop the goals in the plan.

The refusal of transportation issue is discussed under the public safety focus area, which, along with arts, culture and tourism and civic engagement, make up the community-related portion of the plan.

The other public-safety related goal in the plan is to create a day-reporting program for individuals sentenced for nonviolent crimes, as an alternative to incarceration.

Sentencing an individual to day reporting is less costly for the county than incarceration, according to the plan.


Arts, culture, tourism

The SCIP's arts, culture and tourism focus group was passionate about the idea that arts and culture are essential to having a vibrant community where businesses can flourish, said Bradley N. Sell, executive director of the Community Foundation of Washington County.

Arts- and culture-related goals included marketing arts awareness, educating the community about the importance of funding for arts, culture and tourism, and prioritizing the arts as a core subject throughout all levels of education.

"Around the country you see a lot of arts programs and music programs being cut out at schools," Sell said. "And studies will show you ... entrepreneurs who have been extremely successful in running their businesses were people who were involved in arts classes and music classes from the beginning in elementary school."

The SCIP also recommends creating a shared facility for local and visiting artisans.

"Arts centers have been shown across the country to be economic engines for communities," said focus group member Mary Anne Burke, executive director of the Washington County Arts Council.

The center could include not only studios for the visual arts, but also space for performances, poetry readings and other literary and musical arts events, Burke said.


Civic engagement

The civic-engagement focus group set goals aimed at promoting volunteerism, enhancing charitable giving and invigorating elections.

In the volunteerism arena, the group recommended a local service that would match volunteers with available opportunities.

"Sometimes, people just don't know where to go to get involved," said focus group member Kay Hoffman, who oversees fundraising and volunteer management as director of development for Brook Lane.

A new group called Volunteer Washington County has already started moving forward on that project, Hoffman said. The group has created a website, www.volunteerwashingtoncountymd.org, where organizations can post volunteer opportunities and people can offer their services.

The SCIP also recommended developing a "donor education forum" to provide donors with information about the needs of nonprofits.

The SCIP includes goals to increase both the number of ballots cast and the number of candidates running for office by 10 percent in the next five years.

"We talked a lot about what happens when there's only one person running for an office, and how that discourages people to go and vote," Hoffman said.

The plan recommends "how to run for office" forums to encourage more candidates to participate. It also recommends promoting early-voting opportunities in hopes of increasing turnout.

"Early voting is a great mechanism, but maybe it needs to be marketed a bit better," Hoffman said.


Across the community

 The final four goals in the SCIP are ideas that emerged to address overarching needs that didn't fit into any one focus group, Gayman said.

For example, the need for expanded broadband Internet access came up in four or five focus groups, she said.

Other goals built on the SCIP's collaborative spirit to encourage further coordination between agencies and programs.

One goal recommends an annual funders' roundtable to share information about community organizations, their goals, and fundraising opportunities.

Another recommends an interagency application for services, so that individuals working with multiple agencies wouldn't have to submit the same information repeatedly.

The SCIP also recommends increasing awareness of 211, a help and information telephone line for referrals related to basic human needs, physical and mental health, crisis intervention, support groups and more.

"Anybody on a cellphone or on a land line can pick the phone up and call 211," said focus group member Stephanie Stone, Washington County's Director of Health and Human Services. "They will get a live voice on the phone who's ready and willing to answer any questions, nonemergency, that people might have."

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