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Wednesday, September 18, 2013


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Stand back

In Montgomery County, the public is now getting mixed messages on the mechanics of solicitation. Last week, the county urged motorists to refrain from giving money to panhandlers. The county’s advisory was framed in two ways. One, you can’t be sure if the money you give will be wasted or feed an addiction. Two, it’s hazardous for people to stand along the road and beg from motorists during a fleeting lull in traffic. The better course, the county says, is to donate COLLECTING to social service organiMONEY zations that know the ROADSIDE IS plight of the homeless A HAZARD, NO and how best to come to MATTER WHO IS their aid. Our instincts of deDOING IT cency make it tough to ignore direct pleas from the needy. Stepping over and past someone camped on the sidewalk — jobless, homeless and possibly hopeless — is a clash between of mind and heart. Note that Montgomery County is not telling us to stop giving generously. In fact, the county’s advisory is a reminder that we might not know beyond what we see. We don’t know who on the streets is addicted and to what. We can’t possibly figure out, in a snap decision, the most efficient way to be charitable. At the same time, the county’s professed concern about roadside solicitation creates a puzzling false dichotomy. Why is it unsafe for panhandlers to stand on a curb or median strip and ask for money, when Montgomery County firefighters are allowed to do it? In their annual “Fill the Boot” drive for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, firefighters blanket local roads for a few days. They collect money from motorists on main roads when traffic stops. This practice has been the subject of much wrangling among county elected leaders, state legislators from Montgomery and the firefighters’ union. Separate bills from Montgomery’s state lawmakers have tried to limit roadside solicitation, including the “Fill the Boot” campaign. One bill, which passed, lets the county create a permit system for individuals or groups to collect money along the road. A second bill, which failed, would have limited fundraisers to sidewalks and median strips, out of the roadway, according to Del. Aruna Miller (D-Dist. 15) of Darnestown, who supported that bill instead. County Councilman Phil Andrews, who opposes roadside solicitation as a safety hazard, said the new permit authority, should the county exercise it, is unlikely to solve the problem. People still could walk in the road as they ask for donations. You would expect firefighters, thoroughly trained for dangerous jobs, to be more mindful and cautious along the road than the average person. Yet, that’s no guarantee of safety. Andrews points to cases in at least two other states in which firefighters were injured during similar fundraising efforts. One was in California. A 2010 story in the Whittier (Calif.) Daily News says a firefighter crossing the road during an MDA “Fill the Boot” drive was hit by a small pickup truck. According to a police officer who responded: “Technically (the driver) had the right of way. He was not at fault. Chances are (the firefighter) didn’t see the truck and the truck never saw him coming.” Miller, a traffic engineer, voices a succinct objection: “Roads are not meant for commerce. They’re meant for travel.” Unquestionably, Montgomery County’s firefighters, mirroring altruistic departments across the country, are doing yeoman’s work in directing money toward MDA. MDA has come to rely greatly on “Fill the Boot” money. In 2011, when a debate flared up about fundraising, and firefighters kept to the road’s edge, donations sank, from the typical $250,000 to $94,000. After 28 years of MDA drives, county firefighters had raised an amazing $1.8 million. Some years, they are among the nation’s most prolific firefighting fundraisers for MDA. But just as the county’s advisory is right for panhandling, the same safety sense should be imposed on all streetside fundraising. There are too many distractions on the roads and in our vehicles. Common sense tells us that it’s a bad idea to sanction people walking among motor vehicles and having monetary transactions from drivers, however worthwhile the cause. Let’s return to old techniques to reach the public, and find new ways. Approach people when they have a chance to absorb the message and thoughtfully react to it. The space outside heavily visited commercial, community or government buildings are all reasonable spots. Social media can help, and The Gazette is glad to spread the word, too. Surely, this community would rally to help firefighters meet their fundraising goal in a different way. Safety and generosity would both thrive, without cutting into each other.

The Gazette Karen Acton, President/Publisher


Coaches need coaching on tackling I was glad to read that The Gazette is paying attention to the serious issue of concussions in high school football. [“Concussion awareness starts at the top,” Sports, Sept. 4]. However, this story reports that football coaches in Montgomery County Public Schools are teaching dangerous “helmet on the football” tackling. Since the 1970s, initiating contact with the front or top of the head has been prohibited by the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations and NCAA. The technique is prohibited because it increases the risk the tackler will suffer a catastrophic and sometimes deadly cervical neck injuries. But the story reports that, in Prince George’s County, “helmet on the ball is preached.” In Montgomery County, Walter Johnson High School football coach, John Kadi, was quoted as saying, “It should be helmet on the ball.” Last month, I heard the football coach at Walt Whitman

High School tell parents that he too taught “face mask on the football” tackling. The widespread ignorance on this important issue among football coaches suggests that referees for MCPS and PGCPS football games are not calling face tackling penalties. In its annual survey of football injuries, NFHS underscores the danger of tackling with the front or top of the helmet “initial contact should never be made with the head/helmet or face mask.” But NFHS notes, “at the present time, officials are not calling all helmet contacts.” According to National Association of Athletic Trainers, the proper tackling technique is to initiate contact with the shoulders and chest. Coaches in Maryland, however, are not required or expected to know this long-standing technique that was adopted to reduce catastrophic cervical neck injuries. But just across the Potomac, football coaches at every one of Fairfax County’s 24 high schools

are taking the Heads Up course, which is aligned with the shoulder and chest tackling technique. Unfortunately, the leadership for high school athletics in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and at Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, have not required football coaches to have training in current football fundamentals so that they teach safe tackling. Instead, the leadership seems to think that high school football coaches should be allowed to coach whatever they remember, or think they remember, from when they played in college or high school. The story says that Maryland high school football coaches are limited this year to two full contact practices per week (plus one game). If coaches in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are coaching dangerous tackling techniques, this is two practices too many.

Tom Hearn, Bethesda

Panhandling doesn’t help the needy I was pleased to see your coverage of the new county initiative to discourage panhandling. However, I wish the story placed more emphasis on the problems that prompted this new program, problems which we at Interfaith Works face with our clients on a daily basis. Panhandling is not just a distraction that is dangerous for both drivers and panhandlers. Panhandling is a practice that does little or nothing to get at the underlying, complex problems of poverty, homelessness and addiction. Dropping a buck in a cup is a short-term response that doesn’t usually bring about the changes that needy and homeless people require to get to a better, more stable place in life. In fact, studies show that money often goes not for food or other essentials, but to fuel negative habits, including purchase of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The initiative led by County

Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council member George Leventhal offers a welcome alternative to redirect the generosity of folks who want to do something to help. Using a simple text message, concerned individuals can send a donation that the Community Foundation for Montgomery County will then distribute to groups like ours. Of course, a concern that comes with this initiative is that people just may stop giving altogether. It is easy to not put a dollar in a cup, and then forget to send money through the Community Foundation or through other direct service agencies. For those who still wish to help panhandlers directly, there are alternatives to cash. Another helpful approach is keeping packets of small necessities in the car to offer to individuals. These could contain PowerBars, water bottles, nonperishable foods, toiletries and the like.

We and our partner agencies are on the front lines, working with homeless and needy people to help them move from crisis to stability over the longterm. As long as drivers keep dropping change into those cups, panhandlers will keep coming to car windows at busy intersections. It’s time to take a different approach: give a hand up, not a handout. Text “SHARE” to 80077 to give $5 to support programs that provide a hand up to the needy in Montgomery County, or please consider providing basic necessities instead of cash directly to panhandlers through essentials packs kept in your car.

James Mannarino, New Market The writer is the executive director of Interfaith Works, a Rockville-based nonprofit agency and a non-sectarian interfaith coalition working to meet the needs of the poor and homeless.

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Ten Mile Creek opinion ill-informed The Gazette’s editorial position regarding proposed development in the Clarksburg area and Ten Mile Creek is ill-informed and shortsighted. It reads like it was written a half-century ago without the benefit of knowledge of the county’s earlier attempts to save other streams. And the suggestion that the developer Pulte has the best interests of Montgomery County residents at heart when it comes to stream quality and protection is laughable. This stream means nothing to Pulte except perhaps as an advertising backdrop for their sales brochures. Ironically, they propose to call their development “Ten Mile Creek” but perhaps “Forget Ten Mile Creek” would be more fitting. In 1986, my family bought a property in a new, lovely development in what is now North Potomac. That house backed to Rich Branch Creek, a tributary of Muddy Branch Creek, and over the 16-plus years we lived there, I saw a gradual degradation of the creeks within our neighborhood, despite wellintentioned planning with “stream valley park” designation and stormwater pond management and modest stewardship by the neighbors. It was disheartening and disturbing to see firsthand the changes that occurred from just houses, streets and driveways — without shopping centers or parking lots in the mix. My story of one creek was probably played out thousands of times over the years at other new housing developments in watersheds around the county. We should have learned some lessons from this, but now we have one goodquality creek left in all of Montgomery County and we want to risk its water supply with development and the use of the “old” conservation methods, with a few new techniques thrown in? Do we really dare risk it? Really? The prudent course is to stop all development in the Ten Mile Creek watershed and save this Montgomery County treasure. New development can go elsewhere — just not here.

Julia Larson Wurglitz, Gaithersburg

POST-NEWSWEEK MEDIA Karen Acton, Chief Executive Officer Michael T. McIntyre, Controller Lloyd Batzler, Executive Editor Donna Johnson, Vice President of Human Resources Maxine Minar, President, Comprint Military Shane Butcher, Director of Technology/Internet

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Potomacgaz 091813  

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