Fair shows faith in community

More than 400 people gather in Edgewood to learn about resources available in Harford

September 24, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Nearly 80 vendors at the community fair in Edgewood offered literature about their organizations, opportunities to volunteer and giveaways like red piggy banks, refrigerator magnets, canvas totes and shrill whistles.

The banks came with a message to save for a first home. The colorful magnets were printed with vital contact information. The tote bags came in handy for all the brochures, business cards and fliers distributed at the fifth Faith-based & Community Resource Fair last week. And the whistles were gifts from the county's Sexual Assault/Spousal Abuse Resource Center.

"At the fair, we get to interact with different programs and referral systems," said Jessica Letourneau, children's counsel with SARC. More than 400 visitors came away from the fair with information, referrals and a clearer idea of the community services that Harford County has to offer.

"The last thing any of us want is to be a well-kept secret," said Gabrielle D. Oldham, who represented the Northern Chesapeake Hospice Foundation.

Participants could have their vision screened or blood pressure tested. Many signed up to donate blood. The county Health Department enrolled people in its anti-smoking classes, and Tabitha's House, a Fallston thrift store that supports several charities, advertised its wares. Vendors filled the Richlin Ballroom and spilled out into the building's hallways.

"The vendors come in droves and learn a lot from each other," said Robin Rossbach, prevention coordinator for the county's Office of Drug Control, which co-sponsors the event with the Faith Activated Community Empowering Intervention Training. "There is everything from what government and social service agencies can do to how AA programs and church outreach ministries can help."

The five-hour event highlighted community resources and encouraged collaboration among participating organizations, Rossbach said. The Office of Drug Control draws funds from a five-year, $1 million grant from the state and county to pay for such community events.

"People can get information firsthand and make contacts," she said. "They come away with information about each other and links to volunteers."

A few years ago, members of Harford Community Church connected with a foster parents group at the fair. The church has put on an elaborate Christmas party for the children ever since and is expecting as many as 300 guests to attend the event this year, said Greg Shirk, the church's program director.

"You come to this fair and realize there is some organization right down the street you can help or who can help you," Shirk said.

At this year's fair, Shirk met Shirley Crawford-Gantt, outreach coordinator with Big Brothers and Sisters of Harford County, and the two discussed the possibility of mentoring children whose parents are incarcerated.

"We ask churches to provide volunteers and a place for children to get together with an effective mentor," Crawford-Gantt said.

At the Homecoming Project's booth, Anne Sumler spoke of how the organization assists women recovering from substance abuse. Roberta Clay, a Bel Air business owner, thought the project would make an ideal cause for her sorority. Sumler offered a brochure and invited Clay to an open house.

"We can always use strong women to show our women where to go," Sumler said.

By exhibiting the services and resources that government agencies, nonprofit groups and the faith-based community can offer, the fair helps the homeless and others coping with a life crisis.

"There are many lost and helpless people and many resources to help them out there," said Jan McMillen of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air. "We can make those connections at this fair."

Denise McGhee, a volunteer with Bel Air United Methodist Church, said, "This fair is not about denomination. It is about churches with a lot of ability to provide for this community."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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