ON AN ISOLATED, forested stretch of Philadelphia Road between Riverside and Aberdeen, the Harford County Association for Retarded Citizens is easy to miss. The world is changing all around it, however, and by that we don't mean the new shopping centers and Cracker Barrel restaurant luring motorists off the interstate nearby.
The center serves roughly 250 clients, 100 families with children who are mentally disabled and 150 adults with mental retardation.
Not many years ago, most of those adults would have performed low-skilled tasks in an ARC workshop -- packing dental floss, collating forms for health insurers, doing last-minute assembly of an automotive part.
Those adults and their families, however, wanted "real" jobs that would provide greater self-sufficiency and be more integrated in the community.
Four years ago, 100 clients had jobs in the workshop, and 40 were employed on the outside, said Tim Quinn, the center's executive director. Now those figures are reversed -- and rapidly continuing in that direction.
Indeed, the workshop will be shuttered at year's end, Mr. Quinn said. The agency is stepping up efforts to place clients in jobs at fast-food restaurants and distribution centers.
Like welfare reform, this shift is commendable and desirable, but also requires upfront investment in job training and monitoring.
ARC is one of the agencies supported by the United Way. It received $136,000 last year, a tenth of the $1.2 million allocated in Harford.
That was triple the donations that flowed from employees in Harford, notes Michael Blum, a marketing executive who chairs the United Way effort in the county.
The United Way is halfway toward its goal of $39.1 million by Nov. 12. It has established boards and bureaus in Baltimore's suburbs to underscore the need all around.
For example, more than a third of the peoplewho received emergency shelter in Harford last year were children, and those who needed shelter were turned away for lack of space on 340 occasions.
"We can't open the doors without secure funding from United Way," said Harford Del. Mary Louise Preis, who sits on the board of the United Way of Central Maryland. "It's crucial."
The agency serves Family and Children's Services, Meals on Wheels and the Boys and Girls Clubs, to name a few.
It's worth noting Aberdeen was named an "All-American City" this year partly due to its outreach to underprivileged youth.
The need is there. Two weeks remain in the drive. Please give.
The phone number at the Bel Air office is 410-638-5499.
Pub Date: 10/30/97