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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recognizing the Value of Non-Profits in our Community, the start of baseball and a dreaded virus attack

I have tried to highlight the non-profits in our community that do the valuable work of improving the quality of life in Howard County. Now is the time to recognize the value of non-profits that you feel are worthy of recognition. The Association of Community Services of Howard County is now accepting nominations until April 29th for their Audrey Robbins Awards. Now in its 36th Year, these prestigious awards recognize the work of human services organizations and those volunteers and staff who go above and beyond all expectations in their service to the community. These awards not only recognize the achievements of those honored, but also offer public recognition for the organizations and causes to which our honorees devote their time and energy. Anyone may submit a nomination. Nominations fall into four categories: Employee of the Year, Employee Team of the Year, Volunteer or the Year, and Volunteer Team of the year.

Play Ball

With the start of another Major League Baseball season those of us that halfheartedly follow the Orioles hope that the optimism of a .500 season might be possible this year. We know that being in the same division as the Yankees and the Red Sox and their huge budgets will never make for a level playing field. If professional football has shown the advantage of a socialist model of business in its "share the TV wealth" model as being good for competitiveness than the capitalistic baseball model of the wealthy get wealthier and the poor finish last in their division (except the smart Tampa Bay club) then the Orioles are destined to finish last in their division again.

As someone who has been turned off to baseball because the slowness of the game I now just DVR the game and start watching it an hour after the starting time to fast foward through commercials and between pitches. This allows me to watch a game in about one hour and then be at the live broadcast. One of the biggest problems with the games being slow is allowing the batters to get out of the batter's box after each pitch to adjust their batter's gloves. Some hitters take this to the extreme. Are all hitters suffering from OCD??? The ritualistic process of adjusting their batting gloves is ridiculous. Do gloves really make any difference other than lengthening the games? I haven't seen any more great hitters since the players started using gloves. Might be a psychological benefit but probably not much more. I also don't want to be sacrilegious but do you really think God will help you get a hit by getting out of the batter's box to cross yourself between pitches. Don't you think God has better things to worry about?

I do this with football even better. I will start watching a DVRed Ravens game an hour and 30 minutes after starting time and catch up to the live action late in the fourth quarter. Football, because they have 30 seconds between plays, allows you to set your skip on the DVR setting to 30 seconds and go from one play to another. If only life had a fast forward and reverse button to replay pleasant moments and skip through unpleasant activities!

It Finally Happened- A dreaded virus attacked my computer

I spent 2 hours last night (not getting to bed till after midnight) getting a virus deleted from my computer. I thought that viruses were a thing of the past with the new anti-virus programs. That is why I pay Verizon for its Security Suite and use McAfee to tell me the safety of internet sites. But last night after opening an attachment from a friend it happened. A warning of a virus infecting my computer that required a purchase of a Microsoft anti virus software program. The tip off that this was bogus was that I couldn't open any internet site without this warning showing up rather than the page I was trying to open. All I saw was "Warning your computer is infected with a virus- you need to download Windows XP 2011 aniti virus program to access the internet safely." No legitimate software provider would block you unless you downloaded their program uninvited.

So at 10:30 last night rather than heading to bed I called Verizon who connect me to a technical support person in India (8:30 am his time and where it was 70 degrees---amazing the conversations you can have while waiting for your computer to reboot) who remotely tried to find and delete the virus. After much trial and error and rebooting he finally fixed the problem and I headed to bed at 12:30 am relieved from the panic of not having a functioning computer. Have we got so tied to our computers that life ends without functioning internet access??? Cutting off internet access to a blogger is like cutting off oxygen to a scuba diver!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

“Our House”- Saving one young man’s life at a time

The program that I am highlighting in today’s blog is special to me in so many ways. If you act on no other blog that I have posted I ask you to respond to the program in today’s blog. As a former foster parent I know the struggles that older foster youth have in making their way in life. That is why the work of Our House resonates so much with me.

Our House was started by Richard Bienvenue (Benny to all his many friends) in 1993 at a summer camp location to teach carpentry skills to young men in foster care and juvenile justice programs. The program moved in 1994 to the Taylor Manor property in Ellicott City and that is where I got to know Benny. To talk to Benny is to become committed to his vision and mission for Our House. He is truly one of those people whose commitment is inspiring. I have tried to stay in touch over the years and support his program in various ways.

In 2002 he was able to purchase a farm near Olney to expand his services to more youth. If you ever want to see an inspiring local program that is changing young men’s lives a visit is worth the trip. Located in a rural setting just off Route 108 you cannot help falling in love with the location and program. A dorm housing 15-20 youth and a house that houses the staff for the program are just the beginning of what you see. A pond for fishing and a garden add to the idyllic setting.

The program has results that other youth programs would envy. Working with some challenging youth who have had a rough time growing up the program has a success rate of 80%. Success defined as graduating from the program, finding a job and successfully transitioning to adulthood. So far Our House has served as the path to achieve that to over 250 youth. Not all youth go on to do carpentry, especially with the housing building trades in a downturn, but they are successful in working in the elder care, retail and food service fields.

The program gives back to the community because most of the carpentry work that the program does is with non-profits and other human service programs. That is how I met Benny when the Office on Aging used the program to do repairs on older persons homes. They built many handicapped ramps for Office on Aging clients. In addition Benny has the youth doing community service projects on Saturdays. Giving back to others is an important part of the learning process for the young men.

Benny has received many awards for his work including Oprah Winfrey’s “Use your life Award.” A listing of the program’s award can be seen on their website.

I want to get to the important part of this blog. Benny is presently raising funds to build a new dormitory to expand their program to serve 24 young men. He has successfully raised over a million dollars to date but is still less than half way to the funds he needs for the dorm. You if know of a funder that is looking for a successful program to fund let them know about this program.

Now I know that most people might not have knowledge of potential funders mentioned in the last paragraph but there is something I really want everyone that is reading this blog to consider. Our House always needs the following items:

1) Construction materials

2) Drop cloths

3) Tools

4) Tool Boxes

5) Insulated work gloves

6) Sports equipment

7) Work boots

8) Gardening tools

9) Leaf rakes

10) Wheel barrels

11) Shovels

12) Garden rakes

13) Chain saws

14) Auto mechanic tools

15) Lawn mowers

16) Weed wackers

17) Watches

18) Overnight bags

19) Suit cases

20) Battery alarm clocks

21) Gift certificates for fast food

If you have any of these items that are in good shape and are willing to donate them to Our House you can call them at 301-519-1019. Even though I encourage you to visit Our House, if you have items to donate that are in good usable condition I will be picking up items this weekend to take down to Our House next week. If you want me to pick them up just email at to arrange a pick up this weekend.

If you belong to any group that is looking for a service project to collect and donate any of these items seriously consider Our House. And make a visit to see this program. You will leave inspired as I was. Tell Benny you read about the program in this blog.

Followup story in the Sun this morning on the issue of homeless individuals at the Mall

Columbia Association public meeting on the Aquatics Master plan is tonight at the Hawthorne Center in Hickory Ridge at 7 pm.

Neighbor Ride fundraiser tonight Mamma Lucia of Columbia
4 pm to 10 pm
Dine-In, Carryout or Get Delivery
10% of sales will go to Neighbor Ride
Gateway Overlook Shopping Center
6630 Marie Curie Drive
Elkridge, MD 21075

Monday, March 28, 2011

Neighbor Ride—Using the new community-networking model of service delivery

Anyone who has been following trends in human service delivery has seen the rise of community networks as a service delivery model. The model has developed as the Internet has provided easy methods to reach volunteers in the community to match needs with volunteer resources. There is no better example of this in Howard County than Neighbor Ride service to transport senior citizens.

The Howard County Office on Aging conducted extensive research in 2001, which projected that, the county’s senior population would double by the year 2020. Seniors surveyed in the study identified health care and a lack of transportation options as their top two concerns. The Office on Aging presented their findings to Transportation Advocates, a grassroots coalition of businesses, human services, transportation providers, local government, senior and environmental groups, consumers and interested citizens working to increase public awareness of transportation services and needs and advocating for regional and local transportation. Transportation Advocates hosted a local conference to study Supplemental Transportation Programs (STPs) in October 2002. A work group consisting of more than 25 human service and transportation providers, government representatives, interested community members and senior citizens was formed and interviewed service providers, held informal focus groups, and met with existing senior groups to understand the impact of transportation on the quality of life for seniors. Out of this effort the concept for Neighbor Ride created and incorporated in the summer of 2004. Its volunteer-provided senior transportation service was launched on November 17, 2004.

Today over 6 years later Neighbor Ride serves over 350 seniors and provides over 1100 rides a month with over 300 volunteers. About half the rides are to doctor’s appointments and the other half are for shopping and social visits. Over 99% of the ride requests are filled. This is amazing considering that the rides are provided seven days a week and some involve transportation to the Baltimore and DC areas. The demand keeps growing significantly each year that Neighbor Ride exists.

Funding for Neighbor Ride comes from many sources. About 17% of their funds come from fares. Fares are charged to seniors based on ride length related to zip codes traveled. Other sources of funding are State, County, foundations, contributions and fund raising. The use of volunteer networks in providing this service is one of the best deals for funders. If the more traditional model of service provision was used in meeting this need you would have to pay for vehicles, gas, insurance and drivers. The cost of this type of service would probably be prohibitive for most seniors.

If you are interested in volunteering for Neighbor Ride you can call them at 410-884-RIDE (7433) or email them at

Neighbor Ride is holding a fundraiser at Mamma Lucia’s, Wednesday March 30th from 4-10 pm. For more information on this fundraiser go to

Howard County Education 2.0 in the Digital Age

Everyone knows that there is a link between property values and good schools. Parents or prospective parents check test scores before deciding where to buy a house. This works to the advantage of housing in school districts that are seen as good and to the disadvantage of housing in less desirable school districts. Everyone in Howard County can tell you which county school district fits into which category. Real estate agents promote homes in good school districts and hope parents don’t look at test scores in other school districts. For persons moving to the county from out of state they check out the test scores before making a visit to look at houses. They don’t realized that in any Howard County school your child can get an excellent education that matches their ability. All they know about is “good school” scores, “bad school” scores.

In a previous blog I talked about how our educational model has remained essentially the same for a couple of hundred years with most instruction still being done in a classroom with a teacher in front of a class of 30 or more students. Teachers teach to the “average” student in the class that may have widely different abilities. Schools have tried to adjust with Gifted and Talented and Advance Placement courses but it is still teaching to the group.

We see technology changing the way we do everything. We email and cause the decline of the Post Office. We bank online and have little reason to ever go inside the bank. We buy books at Amazon and cause small bookstores to disappear. Amazon now sells more E-books than hardcover books. We read online and cause the disappearance of print newspapers and magazines.

How will this technology change the education model that has existed the past couple of hundred years? Education is now moving online. We have first seen this with the online universities like the well-known University of Phoenix and the University of Maryland’s University College. But now the online education is moving to the secondary level and that is what I would like to have everyone think how this might change the reality that I started this blog with—that school districts and housing prices are linked. Just think that you could live anywhere and have your children get the same education. Want to live in the mountains of Colorado and have your child educated with in the Howard County online system? Technology might someday make that possible.

I have a great niece in Pennsylvania who is being home schooled with a program called the Connections Academy. She is in 7th grade and gets her instruction online with other students from around Pennsylvania. What she sees on her computer is an instructor teaching online in real time. She has a headphone to ask questions of the instructor as if she was in the same room. The instructor directs students to online resources that expand on the classroom instruction. Class notes are online for students. The Connections Academy provides the computer, headphones and free high-speed connection for the family. The Connections Academy is an approved educational provider in Pennsylvania and the State pays the Academy for every student in the program. This means the State has to provide one less space in a classroom and that saves the State money. The Connections Academy is working to get licensed in more states. It is not available in Maryland right now but it is in development.

I would call what the Connections Academy is doing Online Education 1.0. It still uses the classroom instruction as its primary teaching method. What some of the possibilities with online education could envision is school instruction in almost unlimited subjects. We hear about the shortage of math and science teachers in our schools. Online schools could have math and science teachers teaching to many more students. Think of the range of classes that could be taught. Want to learn Arabic? How about having the instructor from a country where Arabic is spoken? How about a real life scientist (who knows maybe even a Nobel Prize scientist) teaching a high school science course online?

Even within the schools in Howard County you could have a teacher in one school teaching to all the schools online. With the television technology the teacher may be as big on the screen as if they were in the classroom. Students get sick—just tune into the class online. Snow days maybe a thing of the past. Summer school—as easy as turning on your computer. Having teachers going to suspended students homes or students with long term illnesses---gone! In developing the technology Howard County schools could contract with schools in other parts of the State to provide these classes to students in those counties and make money for the Howard County school system.

I would imagine some folks might be saying that this might work for high school students but not for younger age students and certainly not for students in kindergarten. I am not so sure. I have a grandson who has just turned one and I can put him on my lap and he grabs the computer mouse and moves it around the screen and clicks the mouse on the icons to make them pop up. I swear one time he even clicked on the X to minimize the icon. Maybe that was just luck but he also knows to pick up the remote control and point it at the television and push the buttons. The children today are going up with digital technology (I didn’t even mention video games) and they are going to respond to online education very differently than their parents.

As we move forward in the 21st century we might be seeing the end of traditional school building, traditional classroom, traditional classroom instruction and traditional education. Just think what states and counties could do with property taxes if they only had to provide online education and not build school building and pay for buses to transport students to schools? Better education at a greatly reduced price—isn’t that an attractive option? Even the social aspect of school can be provided on field trips and group projects.

I know that traditionalists might be thinking of many problems with these changes but isn’t that what people said with email replacing written letters when email started? Anyone want to go back to communicating by written letters besides the Post Office! How many people under 75 still write letters?

P.S. Video that all animal lovers will enjoy

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Collective responsibility vs Individual responsibility

Today in the Sun there was an article worth reading that addresses an issue that we see played out everyday in our politics. It is worth reading,0,3509085.story

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What came first the bagel or the run?

For many years I began my weekends in the parking lot next to the Swim Center in Wilde Lake waiting for Joe or Nadia Wasserman to say, “It’s 7 am lets go.” The Bagel Run is the way the Howard County Striders started their Saturday morning run that went out Homewood Rd with runs of various distances. You could do 10 miles, 13 miles, 16 miles or for the really committed a 20-mile run. Some of you might even have seen this large group of runners milling around the parking lot early on a Saturday morning.

Started by Warren Ohlrich in 1979 as a training run before he opened his Feet First store in the Wilde Lake Village Center it soon started attracting a wider group of runners from the Howard County Striders. Since that time there has never been a Saturday when there wasn’t at least a one runner doing this run at 7 am. The story is that Warren would come out on bad weather mornings just to make sure the streak didn’t get broken. This includes snowstorms, thunderstorms, summer heat, winter cold and any weather you can imagine. I remember doing one run in a rain so hard that we ran through water over our ankles coming down a hill going around Centennial Lake path. The worst the weather the better the stories we got to tell to non-runners just to prove how crazy we were!

At some point in the 1990’s the housing development taking place along Homewood Road and Folly Quarter made us recluctently stop running out Homewood. There were just too many cars and especially trucks and narrow shoulders. No more Shepard's Lane and especially the Mt. Albert Road hill. We changed our route to be mostly on the paths around Columbia. A few old timers didn’t give up the old routes and many times the running group would split into two groups at Elliots Oak. The old timers thought that the Columbia paths just didn’t have enough hills for real runners.

As any runner in a running group will tell you the conversations and friendship made during long runs are some of the best friendships you will ever make. You knew more about your fellow runners lives than most of their families. One of my favorite running companions was Allan Fields. Allan traveled around during the week in his job and he collected jokes and stories that could last the entire run. None of us could ever repeat a joke or story as well as Allan. Sometimes the punch line might come after 5 or 10 minutes. Allan is no longer able to run but he still keeps many of us supplied with jokes in weekly emails.

The best part of the Bagel Run was going to the Bagel Bin after the run to continue to socialize with fellow runners. We would push the tables together as runners would continue to come in during the morning. When Steve Girard opened the old Bagel Shoppe he didn’t realize that Saturday mornings would find his place swarming with sweaty runners hogging the tables. We even organized an annual Bagel to Bagel to Bagel run that started at the Bagel Bin in Enchanted Forest then to the store in Wilde Lake and finally finishing in the store in Kings Contrivance.

The tradition developed of having birthday runs for runners as they reached their decade birthdays. Joe Wasserman would make up t-shirts to honor the birthday runner and we soon collected a wide range of birthday shirts. The first Bagel Run I ever did was a bithday run for Ben Matthews and I remember it being 10 degrees and the champaigne that we were served at the 10-mile point by his wife was half frozen in the plastic cups.

Even though many of us no longer run the Bagel Run as we have slowed down, the tradition still continues with some old timers but mostly a new group of runners much younger and faster than us “old” runners. This isn’t to mean that any runner can’t find someone who runs your pace and maybe make a new friend. This truly is the best way to train for a marathon. So if you are thinking of increasing the distance of your long run or training for your first marathon there is no better way to do it then to line up with the Bagel runners any Saturday morning at 7 am in the parking lot in front of the Wilde Lake Swim Center. It will quickly become your favorite time of the week. For me now I just plod along in the dark (5 am!) on the paths in Columbia as a solitary Saturday morning runner with a lot of fond memories of younger days, a leaner body, faster running times and bagels.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Trash, trash and more trash--Oh My!!

In reading the book “Momentum” by Allison Fine on the development of and using the internet to create social change I was surprised how one community, Martha’s Vineyard, solved the problem of trash on their beaches. A great deal of time was spent by people paid to pick up the trash from the trash baskets on their beaches. It seemed that no matter how often the trash containers were picked up they still seemed to have trash overflowing from them. This not only was costly for the community but created unsanitary conditions and a problem with seagulls and rodents. The simple solution was to remove the trash containers and put up signs saying “No barrels, No Trash, No Kidding.” Guess what? People took their trash with them!

This got me thinking about the trash baskets that CA maintains along its paths and at Tot Lots. They seem to be used primarily for dog owners to drop their bags of dog poop and fast food trash. I am sure that CA could have more productive things for their open space maintenance employees to do than empty these containers. Maybe it is time to have them removed.

What about the possibility of having a program for our path system like what the State and County do with the “Adopt a Highway” program for picking up trash. I am sure that open space maintenance employees spend a considerable amount of time in keeping the path system clean and in good order. Maybe there are community groups that would enjoy assisting this in an “Adopt a Path” program. Sounds like a great effort for Boys and Girl Scouts, religious congregations, walking, biking and running clubs. I know I frequently pick up trash and clear fallen tree branches and twigs off the paths on my runs. This could be expanded to garden and flower groups to deal with planting and greenery along the paths. I am sure that there are many other types of partnerships that are possible to keep our green spaces clean and attractive. Any other ideas???

Tomorrow March 26 the Columbia Association is sponsoring a “Columbia-Wide Clean Up Day” from 10 am to 1 pm. If you are interested in participating you can call Sean Harbaugh, assistant director of open space for Columbia Association at 410-381-3470 or just go to one of the following locations.


Where to Park

Cleanup Area

Dorsey’s Search


Dorsey Hall Pool

4649 Columbia Road

CA and County open space behind the Dorsey Hall Pool and along the Plum Tree Branch and Red Hill Branch

Harper’s Choice


Longfellow Pool

5257 Eliot’s Oak Road

Stream valley from Harper’s Farm Road through behind Hildebrand Court, Mystic Court and Killingworth Way

Hickory Ridge


Clary’s Forest Pool

11615 Little Patuxent Parkway

Open space play meadow in the interior of the Little Patuxent Parkway loop and the path that runs parallel to Dark Fire

Kings Contrivance


Amherst House

7251 Eden Brook Lane

Open space and natural area behind the Amherst House and near Dickinson Pool

Long Reach



Locust Park Pool

8995 Lambskin Lane

Open space across from Locust Park Pool following stream to Route 175 underpass

Oakland Mills



Columbia Ice Rink

5876 Thunder Hill Road

From the Ice Rink to Whiteacre Road and the open space area along the path towards Talbott Springs Pool

Owen Brown


Lake Elkhorn – dock side parking lot

Dockside Lane

Lake Elkhorn and the forebay area

River Hill


River Hill Village Center - Claret Hall

6020 Daybreak Circle

Behind Gentle Call down past Ascending Moon Path

Town Center


Historic Oakland Manor

5430 Vantage Point Road

Wilde Creek stream valley from Little Patuxent Parkway to Lake Kittamaqundi

Wilde Lake



Wilde Lake Barn

10027 Hyla Brook Road

Wilde Lake stream valley from Wilde Lake upstream to Faulkner Ridge Circle

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Living Your Sense of Social Justice

Grassroots has involved religious congregations in the county in providing shelter in the past few winters to a large number of homeless individuals and families. By using existing community space that congregations use at other times during the week and using the members of that congregation to staff an overnight shelter, Grassroots has been able to serve homeless individuals that would have had no other resource for a warm place to spend a cold winter night. This past winter was fortunately more of a typical Maryland winter but could you imagine being homeless last winter during our historic snowstorms?

I had a chance yesterday to talk with Rev. Paige Getty from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia about their experience being a site for one week this past December as a cold weather shelter. I was interested in learning what motivated them to participate and how it had impacted their congregation.

The congregation became involved for the first time this past year because the timing was right. Some creative members of the congregation examined how their congregation could become involved after hearing about an urgent appeal from Grassroots about needing more congregations to participate in the Cold Weather Shelter Program. The congregation had discussed it before but there were issues that had stopped them from participating.

When the need was discussed with the congregation 140 members volunteered to participate. This response represented about 30% of their total congregation. Rev. Getty stated that this response was greater than anything else with which the congregation had become involved. Members responded strongly to this need as “living out their religious and social justice beliefs.” Unitarians have always responded to social justice issues but this effort would “put a face” on the issue of homelessness in our own community.

Members of the congregation participated in various ways. Some were drivers to pick up the homeless individuals to bring to their building, some made the meals and others assisted in the sleeping arrangements. Rev. Getty talked about how some members of her congregation ended up volunteering for additional nights after establishing a connection with some of the homeless individuals. One teenager learned from one of the homeless men that he had many of the same interests when he was a teenager. Other members saw how homelessness is something that can happen to anyone with the loss of a job, an illness or a personal setback. Most homeless don’t fit the stereotype of a chronically homeless person living on the street with an addiction issue. They are families with children and persons who could have been your neighbor.

Rev. Getty stated that this experience has resulted in their congregation developing a task force to look at new ways that they can address the issue of homelessness. The task force has discussed the issue of transitional housing and a sober house as areas that they want to examine. As she expressed it “Our congregation has developed a renewed spirit in living out our faith.”

If any congregation who would like to participate in this Cold Weather Shelter program you can contact Anna Katz, the CWS Coordinator at Grassroots at 410-531-6006 or

There is a good article in the Baltimore Sun today on Rayna DuBose a former Oakland Mills basketball star. My daughter played volleyball with Rayna a few years ago. While basketball was her main sport she put everything into learning a new sport like volleyball. What I remember about her was her always present smile on the court.,0,3606104.column

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are Non-Profit Boards up to the Task of Governing?

With the latest Board failure in the county at the Domestic Violence Center folks might be wondering if volunteer boards can manage non-profits effectively. The latest failure comes ironically after the Domestic Violence Center had taken over the operation of the STTAR Center the previous year after financial issues were raised with with that agency. With county tax revenue being the major source of funding to these organizations it does raise the question of how much oversight the county provides to insure that these organizations operate effectively. The county’s role in questioning the operation of both of these organizations (and other local funders) and putting on hold future funding should be praised as being an accountable and responsible guardian of county tax dollars.

As someone who has served on a wide variety of non-profit boards locally, statewide and nationally in many roles, including President and Treasurer, I have seen how is hard it is to get board members to take their organizational and fiscal responsibilities seriously. Somehow many board members were members in name only or felt that the officers would keep the organization operating smoothly. The professionalism of non-profit boards can vary widely and there is no guarantee that large non-profit boards operate more professionally. The difficulties of the national United Way a few years ago proved that.

In this country there has always been a social and political debate on how human services should be provided. Many Western European countries have clearly favored the government as the providers of many of the services that in this county are provided by a network of non-profits and other non-governmental organizations. The rationale for our system of providing services is that non-governmental organizations can involve and engage the community in partnerships and financial support that government agencies would have a difficult time developing. The “cradle to grave” social welfare system of other developed countries seems to have been a tough sell in this country. This was clearly seen in the recent debate of a very limited health care reform.

What is clear is that as county populations grow the demand for services from volunteer organizations can outstrip the ability of those voluntary organizations to provide services. In Howard County we can see this development in our move from a county commissioner model of government to our present form and the local government becoming the provider of a wide range of services. The development of a paid fire department, expanded county police department and the development of a Citizens Services Department as a human service provider are examples of this change. In Howard County the partnership of the county and the non-profit organizations has generally been a successful model in providing our residents with a wide range of human services that is a key component of our county’s quality of life.

I would hope that the recent news stories on the STTAR Center and the Domestic Violence Center would not make us more hesitant to support our local non-profits but to recognize that the strength of our non-profit community depends on the active involvement of wide range individuals. If you value the importance of the services that are provided by our local non-profits I would encourage you to get involved with a local non-profit. The Association of Community Services website is a good place to identify a non-profit with which to become involved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Howard County residents you may not have met

Grassroots has developed a Day Resource Center on Route 1 in North Laurel to serve the homeless population in that area of the County. The Center provides support through clothing, health care, laundry service, a place to get a shower, food and access to computers. According to Doug Carl the manager of the Center they serve over 200 people a month. Of that number 30 are new individuals. There are probably 100 core individuals that they serve on a regular basis.

The diversity of Howard County is seen in comparing the areas along Route 1 with the more affluent areas of Howard County. Even though Howard County is the wealthiest County in the wealthiest State in the Country it doesn’t mean that we don't have areas where low-income individuals still live. As Doug explained, the individuals using the Center come from a population that may be living in tents in wooded areas, in inexpensive motels along Route 1 or moving from one temporary housing situation to another or what is commonly called “couch surfing.” The area along Route 1 is attractive to this population because of the inexpensive motels, industries that use day laborers and cheap fast food restaurants. In the past the Laurel Race track may even have been a source of labor. Activity at the track has declined the past few years and this opportunity may not be much of a factor for a homeless population any longer.

With the decrease in the availability of land to develop in Howard County this section of the County will see a dramatic change in the next 10-20 years. You can see the loss of inexpensive housing offered in the trailer parks disappearing along Route 1. New housing and commercial development will push this population out of the County. The only question is where will they go?

If you would be interested in volunteering or make a donation to the Center you can go to their website at or their blog at

Go to my friend Tom Coale’s effort to raise $1500 for Grassroots at

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homeless in Howard County

I recently sat down with Andrea Ingram the Executive Director of Grassroots to talk about the issue of homelessness in Howard County. Somehow because we don’t see homeless individuals in the County the way you can in DC or Baltimore we don’t realize that homelessness does exist in Howard County in less visible ways. Be sure to look at the ways to get involved with this issue at the end of the blog.

I have seen the signs of homeless individuals living in some of the wooded areas near Columbia. The path from Lake Elkhorn down to Savage is just one area where I have seen this. Years ago when I worked with the Office on Aging we had a call from someone who saw an elderly homeless man living under a bridge on Route 1 near the Laurel Race track.

In attending some meetings of the Baltimore Homeless Coalition a few years ago I realized that homelessness was much more than individuals who are living on the streets. Most homeless people don’t live on the streets but live in many temporary situations. The most frequent is what is called “couch surfing” and involves moving from one temporary place to another. Could be with a friend or unfortunately someone they just met and is looking to exploit them.

We are fortunate to have a resource such as Grassroots. For many years they have been providing 24 hour hotline and shelter services. Grassroots operates the only general emergency shelter in Howard County. The program has 33 beds for families and single adult women experiencing a shelter crisis. Additionally as a back-up to Emergency Shelter Grassroots has a capacity to house up to five families for up to fifteen days in a motel when the shelter is full and there are no immediate alternatives. More recently the have created a Mobile Crisis Team to respond to human service emergencies and includes two mental health professionals. Teaming with the Howard County Police, Humanim and the Mental Health Authority, situations can be professional evaluated and serious mental health situations can be addressed before they become more serious.

In the past few years Grassroots has partnered with local religious congregations to provide cold weather shelter in the congregations facilities from November through March. Congregations host the shelter for one or two weeks and provide volunteers for transportation, meals, laundry and to work shifts in the shelter. Grassroots provides administrative coordination and a staff person to act as the team leader during the hours that the shelter is open.

Howard County has developed a plan to end homelessness that is on the web. Many initiatives are presently underway.

SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery)

This project, led by Grassroots and the Mental Health Authority, assists homeless people with

disabilities to quickly obtain Social Security benefits.

Maryland SAIL {Service Access and Information Link).

This collaboration of Grassroots and Humanim assists homeless persons at the Day Resource Center to apply online for food stamps, temporary disability payments and other Department of Social Services benefits. Dozens of clients who previously had practical or perceived barriers have received benefits for which they are eligible.

Bridges Housing Stability Program

Bridges is converting transitional housing resources for 7 homeless families to housing-focused case management that will prevent the homelessness of 40 at-risk households each year. This includes assisting families living in unaffordable housing and motels, and those on the transitional housing wait list, to be re-housed without entering shelter.

Sober Houses

As described in the Plan, these are a low cost way of providing permanent supportive housing to persons in recovery. Members of the Housing Task Group are facilitating investigations by four separate organizations of ways they might start and operate sober houses.

Housing Project for Homeless Women

Grassroots has applied for CDBG funds to purchase a housing unit to provide housing and supportive services to three homeless women. The project would give homeless women an opportunity to address addictions, mental illness, and health problems, and re-connect with family members and other support systems.

Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP)

This partnership involving the Department of Citizens Services, Grassroots, Bridges to Housing Stability and Christ Church Link is designed to prevent homelessness for vulnerable families and individuals. This federal stimulus grant of $253,898 over two years provides financial assistance to prevent homelessness and offers case management support to help households maintain their housing. To date, the program has provided financial assistance to 60 households (153 people) and case management services to 18 households.

Housing Resource Specialists

Grassroots is using United Way funding for two half-time housing search specialists. Based on best practice models, they will develop an inventory of traditional and alternative housing opportunities, then work with case managers, landlords, real estate agents and online advertising media to match homeless households with available housing.

To get involved with homelessness in Howard County you have some options which I am listing.

1) Contact Jane O’Leary at 410-312-5760 ext. 100 to get involved with the Committee to End Homelessness. The Committee is responsible for advising the Board to promote Self-Sufficiency on issues related to homelessness.

2) If you belong to one of the religious congregations that provide cold weather shelter volunteer in that effort. If your congregation is not participating you can contact Anna Katz the Cold Weather Shelter Coordinator at 410-531-6006 or

3) Go to my friend Tom Coale’s effort to raise $1500 for Grassroots at

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan enter Howard County Rehab Program


In the short time that I have been doing this blog I have been trying to figure out what drives people to the blog. How important is the title of the blog post? Bloggers who blog on celebrities get a great deal of traffic from the general public because of interest in celebrities. This is what makes the tabloids and TV shows like Inside Edition and Entertainment Tonight so popular.

So as a blogger who is trying to blog on more substantive matters (I know that is a subjective judgment) I have trying to come up with catchy titles to draw people to read my blog. This reminds me of when I was working on a college newspaper and wrote the headlines to articles that were written for the paper. Usually the editor did this but he thought we would be better writers if we thought of possible headlines for one addition to the paper. It also probably freed him up from doing a job he didn’t really like.

Secondly yesterday I did a tease of today’s blog. Notice how many times this is done on TV? The show gets you up to the most interesting part and then breaks for a commercial. Or the host of the show will tell you something they will talk about after the commercial. This was brought to a new height with the famous Dallas show ending their season with everyone wondering “Who shot JR.” It brought a huge audience to the first episode of the new season after having everyone speculating all summer.

I did this little experiment on the weekend because views of the blog are naturally fewer on the weekend and I like trying to be somewhat off topic on the weekends. So for Monday back on topic about how discussion on issues and community engagement can improve our community.

AHHHHHH the smelly sign of Spring

Random Weekend Thoughts

I know that for many people the signs of Spring are the crocus and the return of robins but for me the sign that makes the biggest impression is the return of the skunkweed along the paths in Columbia. And I am not taking about the marijuana strain called skunkweed (which is what you get when you Google “skunkweed”). I have mentioned before in this blog I usually run early in the morning in the dark. As I go along the paths at this time you can’t see much of the new flower buds or greening vegetation but I can’t escape the pervasive smell of the skunkweed opening. Normally this type of smell is something we would find unpleasant but because it harkens the first sign of Spring I look forward to it every year.

The skunkweed is found in the marshy areas along our streams. The path that runs parallel to Dobbin Road from Oakland Mills all the way up to Route 108 and the path that goes under Brokenland Parkway toward Savage are the best places to experience this aroma of Spring. The next couple of weeks are the best times to experience this unique plant.

Speaking of the path from Lake Elkorn to Savage that Howard County Parks and Rec maintains when are they going to be done with the sewer line that has torn up this great piece of wilderness? This path is my favorite run when snow is falling. It is a true winter wonderland and to see this area torn up the past year or so has been a shock. Progress can be ugly.

I will leave you today with an amazing Indian story.

Years ago an Indian tribe’s chief died and the custom was to select the two strongest young warriors to go off and see who could kill a bear and be first to return with the bear. That warrior would be made the new tribe chief. The tribe sent out their two best warriors named Running Waters and Falling Rocks.

Many moons went by and no warrior returned. Finally Running Waters returned with the bear he had killed and was made the new chief of the tribe. The tribe waited and waited for Falling Rocks to return but to this day he has never returned. And that is why to this day when you travel along many of our roads you with see signs saying “Watch out for Falling Rocks.”

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the REST of the story.” The next time you see one of those signs just remember where you heard it first.

Friday, March 18, 2011

HoCo Connect: Is Affordable Housing in Howard County an Oxymoron...

Is Affordable Housing in Howard County an Oxymoron?

One of the realities we all experience in Howard County is the high cost of housing. People moving here from most other places are shocked at the prices of housing. There may have been a time when builders were offering “starter” homes with 1500 square feet but that time has long since past. For many of us it has meant that as our children grew up and moved out of the house they looked to other counties (or even other states) to buy a house or rent. Howard County didn’t offer housing that was affordable for a young person just starting their careers.

For employers not offering high wages the ability to hire County residents is limited. Foreigners on work permits fill many of the low paying jobs. These workers many times share housing to make it affordable.

Information from a recent Community Action Council report indicated that “in Howard County, there are 1,096 Housing Choice Vouchers that are distributed and there are 4,300 families on waiting list to receive Housing Choice Voucher. About 2,578 families are residing in homes that are either subsidized or accept voucher. In total there are 18,592 rental units in Howard County of which 1,480 are subsidized. It is important to note that 540 of the 1,480 are owned or managed by the Housing Commission.”

For County residents making the median income over $100,000 and those receiving housing vouchers affording to live in Howard County is possible but that leaves out a large number of people not in one of these two groups.

So what are some answers to creating more affordable housing? An effort to grant higher zoning density to developers in return for having some of the housing units below market rate is one avenue. Another alternative involves local governments building affordable housing on County owned land at below market rate. This was Howard County’s approach with Guilford Gardens and now being proposed for Hilltop.

I want to pass on some information I received on the Annual Howard County Housing Fair. On April 9th, Over 40 exhibitors and educators alike will be on hand to pass along the “why” and “how” to live in Howard County. Real estate companies, mortgage brokers, housing specialists and county personnel will be in attendance. Everything from the mortgage process, to finding the right community, to the nuts and bolts of the home buying process will be covered.

Here is some more information on the fair:
- <> (General information)
- <> (Exhibitors at the fair)
- <> (Information on Come to Howard County)
The fair is also being held in conjunction with the quarterly Moderate Income Housing Unit (MIHU) Housing Lottery. This program is a Howard County Government program that provides houses (both for sale and rentals) at affordable costs for moderate income families.
More information on the Housing Lottery can be found at:
- <>
- <>

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Changing Face of Howard County and its impact on services

Having attended the Association of Community Services of Howard County meeting on Wednesday it became clear that Howard County is not the County of the 1970's and 1980's. As with much of the State of Maryland we are becoming much more ethnically diverse. I guess one way you can see this change is to notice the number of ethnic restaurants and markets we now have in the County. Thirty years ago your ethnic selections were fairly limited to Chinese and Italian. Now we have a number of Korean, Mexican, Indian, Thai and now even Ethiopian. The Lotta Plaza has provided us with a place to buy any ingredient needed in cooking Chinese or Korean dishes.

The ethnic population that has exploded in the County is the Asian population. This population has increased by 116% from 2000 to 2010. This is matched by a 123% increase in the Hispanic population growth and 39% growth in the African American population. This has lowered the White non Hispanic population from 72% in 2000 to 59% in 2010. The minority population in the County will soon be the majority. Not sure what you call minorities when they are the majority.

With the growth of the Asian and Hispanic populations you have cultural and language issues that impact service providers in the County. We have been fortunate to have an organization such as FIRN the in the County for the past 30 years that has been a resource for foreign born residents. Now with the growth of these populations the school system, police and fire services have to be able to interact with foreign speaking residents.

The other large population growth is with the age 65+ population. This population has more than quadrupled since 1970 to over 30,000 in 2010. This population is projected to grow by another 119% in the next 30 years as the population of Baby Boomers reach this age. For Howard County the Baby Boomers have been an especially large part of our population because of the rapid population growth in the 1970's and 80's that was mostly young families moving into the County. Those parents in those families are now reaching retirement age. As I blogged last week about the Columbia Association eliminating 4 Tot Lots the number of children in many of our more mature neighborhoods is declining. Will CA be looking to develop these spaces to reflect the use by a more mature population? Maybe some focus groups with seniors on how these spaces could be utilized by seniors would be a good idea. A senior park with gardens, both flower and vegetable, and wild life sanctuaries might be of interest to this population.

You can access the powerpoint presentation of these changes at

I will be blogging more about the changing face of Howard County over the next couple of days.


I have added photos on the blog that I took going around Lake Elkhorn today on my annual "Spring is here!" run. As someone who usually runs early in the dark it is always fun to do this annual run in the daylight.

A Howard County Treasure—Winter Growth

One of the things that makes Howard County great is its ability to be fertile ground for the development of model programs. There is no better example of this than the Winter Growth program that has been serving Howard County since 1979. Founded by Marge Burba in Montgomery County when day care for the elderly was just developing as a new service to keep people out of nursing homes. It doesn’t take too long after meeting Marge to recognize that this is no ordinary service provider. Her commitment to the elderly attending her day care program is something that caused her to do amazing things in pulling together resources in non-traditional ways.

Marge recognized that she was losing her day care participants to nursing homes because she didn’t have an assisted housing or respite care component to her program. Even though she had no experience in the assisted housing arena she knew that if you could blend the two models you could truly have an alternative for many elderly persons to live out their last years in a supportive home-like environment. That made sense to everyone but state regulators who were not sure how to license and monitor this new hybrid model. Could she keep the public dollars for each service separate? They didn’t want their dollars being used for some other service. Fortunately she had some strong advocates locally who went to bat for her. She had local legislators, county funders, private funders and even Howard Research and Development behind her. After much work the Winter Growth program in Howard County opened with adult day care, assisted living bedrooms and overnight respite care bedrooms. The model has always maintained the home environment with the temporary guests joining for one night to several weeks depending on their need. What Marge is quick to point out is that the Howard County Center has been blessed with a fantastic staff and especially the work of Barbara Bednarzik who has been with the program since the early beginnings.

A Wellness Day Program is now offered and designed for older adults who are basically cognitively alert, socially appropriate, and able to benefit from a four hour program of targeted physical and brain fitness, a hot meal, therapeutic activities, and transportation. It is appropriate for very early stage Alzheimer's, age related or long term depression and or other mental health challenges, and people who need assistance to participate in the community due to a physical disability. One of her participants said of this program, "When you walk through the door, the healing begins."

What became apparent quickly was that there was a demand for more long term to permanent housing for the day care participants. Again Marge went back to the community and advocated for an assisted housing component to her program that today is the Ruth Keeton House named after one of those early advocates for her program. Completed in 1999, this 11,500 square foot building houses sixteen bedrooms for older and disabled adults who are mentally alert. It also accommodates a wellness-focused day program and psychiatric rehabilitation program. What makes Ruth Keeton House special is how every part of the building is designed to add a quality home-like environment. It includes a courtyard with a koi pond, raised gardening beds, and butterfly and birdhouses that are popular all year round.

Winter Growth is having a fundraiser coming up in August - it's on

If you would be interested in volunteering or know of someone who could use this program they can be reached at 410-964-9616.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“Another day older and deeper in debt”

For many folks today the lyrics to the old Frankie Lane song is a reality. Buying on credit is the norm. Remember the old days of buying on “lay away” and Christmas clubs that you paid in every week so you had money for buying Christmas gifts? You didn’t talk to a banker about a mortgage until you had twenty percent as the down payment. It used to be that everyone looked forward to a mortgage burning party. Car loans were 2 years or maybe 3 years if you were lucky.

Fortunately we have a resource in Howard County that can set everyone from young to old on the smart path to avoid the mistakes of “buy now, pay later” mentality.

The program is called makingCHANGE and since 2003 over 6000 Howard County residents have used their online financial literacy programs or attended one of their 60 seminars held each year. Michelle Glassburn has been the President since 2007 and has focused on raising the bar on financial literacy in Howard County by coordinating a set of wrap-around financial education services available to everyone in the community.

Michelle is one of those persons who seems to have partnered with almost every organization in the County. It seems everywhere I go I bump into Michelle doing a financial literacy session or talk with someone who has partnered with her. Her most frequent sessions are on budgeting, childcare, clothing, credit score, education, debt, employment, furniture, food, goal setting, health care, housing, parenting, utilities, savings and transportation. The results of her seminars are impressive:

· 42% began using direct deposit

· 15% opened a second direct deposit bank account to save for financial goals

· 33% enrolled in the employer health plan

· 9% enrolled in the employer's 401K retirement savings plan

· 58% created new personal savings goals

· 64% created a household budget

· 15% created an emergency plan to avoid missing work

Michelle is always looking at new ways to assist people to financial literacy and she has been working to develop a matched saving program to encourage people to have savings for a “rainy day.” You can follow makingCHANGE programs on their blog or Facebook page.

If you have a group that you would like Michelle to do a seminar with call her at 443-718-9350.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Students Give Back During Spring Break

Spring break provides students with an opportunity to become involved in their local community. Read about how one university organized this.

Audioconference on Civic Engagement

The National League of Cities is sponsoring an audio conference on Community Engagement on March 24th. To register go to:

They also have an action guide called "“Beyond Civility: From Public Engagement to Problem Solving” that can be downloaded from their website.

Things about the Library you didn't know

Our Howard County Library is truly one of the best things about living in Howard County. I remember the library of the town of my youth as being a very different place. That library only had books that were donated by the town residents. Needless to say many of the books were too old to be relevant to a student doing a school paper.

Have you wondered what it would be like to read a book with an e-reader? You don't have to spend a couple of hundred dollars to find out. The library now has e-readers you can borrow. The library has purchased 60 Barnes and Noble Nooks to lend out. The money to purchase the Nooks was provided by the Friends of the Library. More on the Friends later.

Interested in finding a book club? The library can help you find one. Just contact your local branch to find one.

Interested in recording your oral history? Established to gather and preserve the collective memory of the county, This is Your Life began in the spring of 2007 with Oral History Technique classes at the Library. These classes taught participants how to collect oral histories and were based on the Smithsonian Folk Life Oral History Guidelines. Since then, more than 90 oral histories have been collected and archived.

At this site, you can listen to podcasts of oral histories and find Library classes on related topics such as genealogy and creating and preserving family histories. You can also read reviews on recommended books, discover upcoming events, and link to other sites.

To listen to specific podcasts, click on names listed under Recent Posts on the left navigation bar.

If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for this project, please contact Lois Sanders at 410.313.7791. All interviews are recorded and archived. Interviewees receive a copy of their interview.

Want to check out the latest Consumer Reports report before making a large purchase? The library can provide you access online to those reports. Spend some time exploring all the resources at their website.

Need help with homework? Students who have a question about solving an algebra equation or formulating a thesis statement for an English essay can get live homework assistance and connect to what they really need - a tutor who can walk them through finding the solution to their problem. The service is available seven days a week from 2:00 pm through 11:55 pm, Eastern time. Students, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and adults seeking to improve their skills, can use the service as often as they wish and receive help in math, reading, science, social studies, English/language arts, and writing.

Finally as I mentioned earlier the Friends of the Library is your way to pay back to library all the great resources it provides us. Having recently joined the Friends and attending one of their Board meetings I can say that their is no more worthy organization in our community than our library.