WHAT'S WRONG with this picture? Howard County -- one of the most prosperous subdivisions in Maryland; in fact, in all of the United States -- has residents living in poverty. It has homeless citizens. It has children who have been abused and neglected. Yes, there are many families who have "everything" in a material sense, but in some cases affluence cannot bridge the emotional canyons between estranged husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.
Even a suburban haven such as Howard needs the help of United Way of Central Maryland. Last year, the regional aid organization returned $1.2 million to the county for the benefit of more than 86,000 county residents -- 23,000 more people than were served by the United Way in 1993.
This increase indicates that United Way has improved its methods of getting help to people who need it. But this also shows that the need is growing. Sadly, the county's youngest residents are among the neediest. Nearly 1,800 children in Howard live below the poverty line. Fifty-four percent of the 656 people served last year at local homeless shelters were children. In 1994, there were 159 reported cases of neglect and physical and sexual abuse of youngsters. Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum, Howard's senior population of 20,300 is expected to increase by another 10,000 within 10 years.
Although the economy has improved and workers feel comfortable again about giving to charities, the number of potential donors in the workplace has been reduced by corporate downsizing.
Those who can donate through payroll deductions or direct payments to United Way should maintain, and consider increasing, their levels of giving. The better to continue support for such crucial local efforts as the Each One Reach One summer program for at-risk middle school students, the Grassroots crisis center, the Howard County Association for Retarded Citizens, local Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Howard County Grant Office, which offers training and other assistance to non-profit groups based in the county.
Effective, efficient, easy to donate to, United Way makes a difference. It certainly did last year in Howard County -- some 86,000 times.