These were some people who shone a little light


December 28, 1997|By NORRIS WEST

EACH YEAR brings some heartache, pain and loss. For many, loved ones have died and close relationships have ended in 1997. We are not mere bystanders in this arena of human events. We've caused and endured hurt.

This newspaper reports many of life's disappointments and failings. But the downside is only half the picture. In the 3,301 stories and other articles in The Sun's electronic library referring to Howard in 1997, we also have told of the luminous people and acts that brightened our year.

We've told of folks who gave of themselves without asking for anything in return -- except, perhaps, a sense of satisfaction that comes from putting a smile on someone else's face.

In 1997, people often worked together to lift others from despair or to make a bad situation better.

Such was the case at Wilde Lake High last spring, when science teacher Lawrence Hoyer died of a heart attack after breaking up a melee on school grounds. The scuffle, involving mostly girls from Wilde Lake and Howard High schools, gave a black eye to the fine school in west Columbia.

We know the school is fine because it has students like Liz Ketner and 250 classmates who formed the group Students Against Violent Encounters a day after Mr. Hoyer's death. The self-starters have visited area elementary and middle schools to demonstrate how children can solve disputes nonviolently.

The students put on skits to hammer home the message to impressionable children that physical force is not the way to resolve disputes. Perhaps these students-as-teachers will help pupils use their minds instead of their bodies to work through conflict.

In Elkridge, people still wonder what happened to Nancy Riggins, the grocery store employee who mysteriously disappeared in 1996. Her husband, Paul Stephen, who has admitted to being a suspect in her disappearance, told police in July 1996 that his wife was gone -- and that their 5-year-old daughter was alone at home -- when he returned home at 6 a.m.

Questions about Mr. Riggins aside, employees at Giant Food in Burtonsville refuse to let their co-worker's memory die. They held a candlelight vigil in Mrs. Riggins' Canbury Woods neighborhood a year after she was last seen.

And they continue to keep almost daily tabs on the case, calling police, raising money to pay for therapy for the daughter (who now lives with grandparents), posting her name on a missing persons site on the Internet, putting up a billboard to seek answers to the mystery and giving support to the woman's parents.

Whether their efforts will reveal the secret of Mrs. Riggins' absence remains to be seen, but their works epitomize true friendship.

Back in Columbia, Jasper Clay wanted to serve his church and community. He knew just how when he listened to the Rev. George Clements, founder of a program that finds adoptive homes for African-American children.

Mr. Clay gained inspiration from Father Clements' call to churches to save drug addicts through a program he labeled One Church One Addict. Mr. Clay, who has worked in the state and federal court systems for 42 years, was aware of the devastating effects of substance abuse. He convinced his pastor at St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church to let him help addicts.

He says suburban Columbia was "in denial" if it believes it doesn't have a drug problem. Now he is helping his church help addicts along the path to recovery.

Education star

Then there is Deborah Drown, principal at Running Brook Elementary, who strives to make students feel included and comfortable while raising academic standards. And she succeeds with great brilliance.

Mrs. Drown wasn't named the educator of the year because her students ace MSPAP tests. Its standardized test scores don't compare to Manor Woods' "excellent" rating. But her leadership has improved performance at a school where one-third of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the standard gauging income levels.

Her Families and Community Together with School (FACTS) program brings families into the education process where they belong. Support from the home can improve school readiness for young children and boost attendance and performance.

Associate Superintendent Sandra Erickson called her one of Howard's "shining stars" for her "consistent quality leadership at her school and among the other principals in the system."

But perhaps the highest praise came from a student, Katie Nehl, who was in the fourth grade last year: Said young Katie: "She shows us how to behave, she teaches us about life and she cares about all of us."

Of course, there are others: the Ellicott City students who tutor new immigrants in English; Mount Pisgah AME Church, which participates in the Girl Power! Campaign to guide teen-aged girls; and the Centennial High students who donated thousands of literary works to the Roger Carter Neighborhood Center.

In 1998, you can shine a light.

Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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