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Editorial: Thumbs up for Westminster church's leadership on inclusion, support for veterans, 'green' benches

Thumbs up: A church in Westminster is setting an example of understanding and inclusivity that should be inspiring for Carroll countians of all kinds, religious or not. Members of Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ unanimously voted in May to become a WISE Congregation — which stands for a welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged community for people with mental illness, substance abuse and brain disorders. The church had previously implemented measures to affirm people with mental illnesses, including mental health first-aid training with the Carroll County Health Department, monthly conversations about WISE with the whole church, and a free mental illness support and recovery group in affiliation with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But this formal declaration makes the church’s commitment clear. A Westminster 15-year-old, Sakura Dash, has depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but she has played a role in expressing the need for such a declaration. “We want people to understand in the community how serious it is, and how difficult it can be to deal with it by yourself, and that we need other people to be there for us,” she told us. As of Monday, Saint Paul’s was one of only 15 churches nationwide to tout themselves as WISE congregations. We’d say that means Saint Paul’s can count itself as a leader on this initiative.

Thumbs up: Two new benches at South Carroll High School might not look out of the ordinary at first, but they stand out in one crucial way. The benches were created from recycled plastic bags — a lot of plastic bags. The eco-friendly furniture is part of the Martin’s Food “Bags to Benches” Program. Jodi Cook, advisor for the school’s Green Team student organization, applied to receive the benches and the group was chosen. The Green Team, a student group devoted to environmental stewardship, placed the benches on an area of campus that they maintain as a meditation garden. If you’re familiar with the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” then you understand this is a boon for our environment. Single-use plastic bags cannot be disposed of in recycling bins in Carroll because they can become snagged in landfill equipment and damage it. That means they can end up in landfills, in creeks and streams, or along local roadways. Not only did this project keep many bags from fouling up our surroundings, but they were turned into something the community can — and will — use. We admire the innovation of this addition, and we hope it’s a sign of things to come.

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Thumbs up: Paul Hughes served as a tank gunner and a specialist in the Army in Kirkuk, in Northern Iraq. Now back in civilian life after being on active duty from 2008 into 2011 — followed by five years in the National Guard — he was not only lacking tank treads but also wheels. For the past year, he had no vehicle — until Thursday, when he found himself sitting in the office of Tom Mudgett of Mudgett’s Autobody, ready to receive a set of keys. For the second year in a row, Mudgett is donating a car to a veteran who needs one to get to work. In Hughes’ case, it’s a silver 2008 Toyota Camry. All involved with this effort to help a former service member enjoy a mobility boost deserve praise. “This changes everything. I can get a better job now,” Hughes told us. “It was basically right across the street, so I started working there, but the pay is not cutting it. Now I’ll be able to get a job anywhere.” Hughes was already batting around ideas for his next moves, from going back to school for business management to helping people as a counselor. Regardless, we wish him all the best.

Thumbs up: In another welcome gesture of support for Carroll County veterans, Dental Care of Westminster is offering free dental care today, June 22, to veterans. The Veterans Free Dentistry Day event offers veterans with valid identification an opportunity to receive a free cleaning, filling or extraction. The practice’s dentist, Arif Masood, felt it was important to address the dental needs he was seeing in the local veterans community specifically. “There are people who need dental care who don’t have money to come even for an extraction — forget about implants or crowns, just the basics, a simple cleaning,” he told us. The event is being offered in partnership with American Legion Post 31, in part because the Legion recognizes the difficulty many veterans have in getting dental care, according to Adrian Gamboa, post commander. Gamboa summed up the significance of this initiative as well as anyone could: “Our veterans have sacrificed so much on behalf of our country, they deserve access to high quality health care, and that includes dental care.”

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