The 11th season of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center's cold-weather shelter program got underway last week and will continue through March 30 at alternating Howard County faith communities.

The shelter program is designed for people who cannot find emergency shelter when Grassroots is full.

Grassroots is located at 6700 Freetown Road in Columbia. For information, call 410-531-6006, or go to

The 24-hour crisis hot line is 410-531-6677.

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This year, 16 places of worship in the county are hosing the shelter for one or two weeks.

Church volunteers provide meals, transportation, clothes, medicine and laundry services, and Grassroots provides on-site staff, management and coordination.

Participating congregations are Atholton Seventh-day Adventist Church, Bethany United Methodist Church, Bridgeway Community Church, Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church, Columbia Community Church, Covenant Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, Glen Mar United Methodist Church, Grace Community Church, Kittamaqundi Community Church, Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church, Owen Brown Interfaith Center, St. John Baptist Church, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paul's Catholic Church and Temple Isaiah.

Last year, 70 people, including 12 children, attended the cold-weather shelter program. Participants receive services including assistance with food stamps, medical assistance, case management referrals, preparing resumes and tax returns, and getting Social Security cards.

Grassroots operates Howard County's only emergency shelter for homeless men, women and families and the Grassroots Day Resource Center. In addition, the nonprofit operates a 24-hour crisis intervention service, staffed by counselors who field calls to its 24-hour hot line and see walk-in clients. As part of its intervention services, Grassroots also operates the county's Mobile Crisis Team, which responds to family emergencies.

—Staff Reports

Robinson Nature Center wins state green tourism award

Howard County's James & Anne Robinson Nature Center has won the Maryland Office of Tourism's 2013 Green/Sustainable Tourism Award. State officials announced the win last week at the annual Maryland Tourism and Travel summit.

The award recognizes a state tourism business or destination with successful green practices that have led to a positive economic impact or cost savings. Green practices include waste reduction, water conservation and energy recycling.

Awardees must be part of the Maryland Green Travel program, a self-certification program that identifies tourism businesses making an effort to reduce their environmental impact.

Opened in 2011, the Robinson Nature Center has energy-efficient features such as geothermal heating and cooling, a green roof and solar panels, which work together to reduce energy use at the facility by 30 percent, per county figures.

—Amanda Yeager, Baltimore Sun Media Group

School board approves plans for new Wilde Lake Middle School

The Howard County Board of Education voted unanimously last week to replace Wilde Lake Middle School — the county's oldest middle school — with a new facility that would open in August 2017. Construction is planned to begin in July 2015.

The new school will be built on current school property, just south of the existing middle school, so students won't be displaced during the nearly two years of construction, the Howard County schools' director of school construction, Bruce Gist, told the board Nov. 21.

"Columbia is growing," Gist said. "Our projections show the need for an addition, but the building is in need of a systematic update."