Building bonds is focus of report

County nonprofit aims to strengthen communities

November 04, 2005|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

For the past five years or so, neighbors have come together each August for the annual Wandering Way Block Party in Columbia's Oakland Mills village. They are drawn by the music, the aroma of grilled foods -- and the chance to forge bonds that may last beyond a few moments of neighborly chatter.

"The event does bring together very diverse groups and ages because our neighborhood has been there for more than 30 years and many [residents] have been there since the beginning," said Barbara Russell, who is on the community's planning board and the Columbia Association board of directors. "There are also young families, and this is a great way to bridge the gap and meet people."

The Wandering Way event is an example of the type of community strengthening being promoted by Community Building in Howard County, a nonprofit county organization that has issued a 56-page report focusing on community and diversity among ages, races and cultures in Howard County.

The report was drawn from interviews and surveys by more than 30 organizations asked for their definition of community, and challenges and ways to build communities. The report praises the wealth of events, activities and programs in Howard County that expose residents to different cultures.

But the report also recommends a greater effort to promote cultural exchange and dialogue among residents. And it urges that a task force of policymakers, news media and cultural and community groups be created to help promote diversity.

Alan Pflugrad, president of CBHC, said the report was intended to show what is working in the county and what can be improved by informing residents, government leaders and civic groups.

"What we heard from the Muslim Council, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Jewish Council is that they want more interaction among these groups," Pflugrad said. "The fact that those groups need more interaction is the message, and they know it. We are not surprising people with this information, we are just communicating it."

During the release and public discussion of the report, several local and state policymakers were in attendance, along with civic and religious group representatives.

Policymakers, who reviewed and discussed the report at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City recently, appeared eager to put some of its recommendations into effect.

"They talk about partnerships, and we are interested in forming and maintaining partnerships with the community," said Herman Charity, special assistant to Howard County Executive James N. Robey

Others said the report highlighted areas where progress is needed.

"We have a wonderful county, but there is still work to be done, and we still need to build more bridges and bring people together," said County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat.

Dorothy L. Moore, former director of the county's Community Action Council, said she has long pushed a similar message.

"What interested me was the idea to go back to the original activities that we had before -- have small gatherings of groups," Moore said. "In the early years of Columbia, groups would come together and meet at the school and have dinners to get to know people. To build communities, you need to know who your neighbors are."

The report can be viewed on CBHC's Web site at www.com munitybuilding-hc.orgtyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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