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Christmas Spirit without the Tinsel HOWARD COUNTY


Outhouses in Howard County? It may run counter to the county's reputation for affluence, but the truth is outhouses exist even in this Land of Near-Nirvana.

Volunteers who worked in the county's recent Christmas in April program can testify to that. They found two homes with outhouses in Howard. As part of an effort to assist low-income, elderly and disabled residents, volunteers outfitted the two homes with in door plumbing.

But that was only a small part of what those involved in the 2-year-old program accomplished last month. With more than 1,000 volunteers, a total of 38 homes got needed repairs. Last year, 750 volunteers took on 26 houses.

Many of those who gave of their time were high-ranking business and civic leaders, as well as other citizens.

The success of the program is due in part to the fact that organizers have already begun work on next year's effort, and some volunteers will continue to work throughout the year on emergency repairs.

Christmas in April is a national program, yet Howard has mounted one of the most impressive campaigns around. Because of that, the county will host the program's national convention in September, having won out over six other jurisdictions in the Baltimore-Washington area.

All of these facts spring from a series of ironies: Not only that wealthy Howard County would need such a program, but that this would be the place where volunteerism has exploded. It is a testament not only to how poverty can be found in unexpected places, but how a concerned community -- no matter how insulated by wealth -- can reach out to its less fortunate.

Not all is nirvana here. Most of the major "misery" indicators have risen: the number of unemployed in the county jumped 70 percent between 1990 and 1992; recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children leaped 40 percent in that period. Add to that a growing population of elderly on fixed incomes, and the ingredients for household deterioration are all there.

It's good to see that so many volunteers realize this and have chosen to do something that truly makes a difference.

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