How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo

Forty-six years ago, as rural Howard County was being inundated by Columbia, a three-day charrette was held to consider what human service needs should be addressed by government and nonprofit organizations. Organized by the Association of Community Services and Howard Community College, the charrette was attended by some 335 people, including citizens, providers, community leaders, new Countians and old Countians. 

They overcame distrust, suspicions and competing interests to reach consensus on a report that is excerpted here. Many ideas were visionary, others just practical, some misguided. The goals they outlined are a measure of how far we’ve come in nearly half a century, and point to what more we have to do to create the city and county that James Rouse envisioned  – a place that provides for the growth of people.

It all started with James Rouse

In 1969, James Rouse created the Columbia Foundation [now the Community Foundation of Howard County] the first community foundation in the state of Maryland.  He and members of the founding board had the prescience to realize that the new town of Columbia would continue to grow and attract new residents and would have pressing needs for decades to come.

[James Rouse stated], “We have always envisaged bringing into being the coordinating leadership, on a continuing basis, to overlook the quality of life of the city; assert entrepreneurial initiative to bring into being new institutions as required; encourage existing institutions to spread their services to areas not covered or avoid unnecessary duplications”.

[In] 1971, the Foundation awarded its first grant to the Association of Community Services of Howard County to “explore human services needs and possible approaches.”

The Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar (October 1970 – December, 1971) [EXCERPTS]

by Richard E. Dewey (Editor)for Howard County Association of Community Services and Howard Community College. Partially funded through Program Impact Title I of the Higher Education of Act of 1965 as well as grants from The Columbia Foundation and the Office of Health Care Programs of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. 

Purposes and Goals of the Seminar

Howard County, Maryland faces demographic, social, economic and political strains in the years ahead that are unmatched, perhaps, anywhere in the nation. Until a few years ago, Howard County was exclusively rural in character. . . . Then, within the decade of the sixties, the spiraling increase in land value of the corridor between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. caught up Howard County and attracted the developers of a “new town” they called columbia [sic]. Suddenly, Howard County faced the 1980 prospect of a city of 110,000 in the heart of its pastoral tranquility.

Invitation to the Community Action Seminar, November 19-21, 1971 (compliments of Columbia Archives)

To measure the impact of such an eventuality, one has only to consider the rate of growth involved. At the time of the Seminar, which prompts this report, and only four years after [Columbia’s] founding, there were 16,000 people living in Columbia and 67,000 in the county as a whole. Twelve thousand more residents will pour into columbia this coming year.

How does a rural county absorb that sort of influx? What strains does it impose? What problems does it create? In November of 1970 a small group of County residents began to hold living room discussions aimed at exploring the needs for new and better human services in a growing Howard County. From the beginning, it was clear that the way selected to approach the county’s needs was through a seminar or charrette situation. Consequently, as early as May, 1971 it was possible to outline the goals for such a weekend program as being:

  • To define the meaning of human resources and social services in Howard County.
  • To investigate and inventory the needs of Howard County population for such services.
  • To develop an integrated delivery system to provide such services.
  • To design the evaluation instrument to measure success.
  • Proposed attendees will include representatives from approximately thirty county social service agencies and private organizations, the County Government, educational agencies, and representatives of the so-called “consumers” of Howard County.
Invitation to the Community Action Seminar, November 19-21, 1971 (compliments of Columbia Archives)
Planning for the seminar

Any explanation of the Seminar itself, and the careful planning that led to it, must first make clear three tangential conditions which greatly influenced the shaping of the Seminar.  The first was a universally accepted sense of tension – a dangerous mixture of distrust, misunderstanding and arrogance – existing between the residents of the new town and the residents of the County. No matter what area of concern one investigated, the breech was always there.

From Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (compliments of Columbia Archives)

The second condition was the fresh memory in many minds of a similar charrette conducted in Columbia in January, 1970 [one devoted to higher education]. The successes and failures of that previous experience in many ways shaped the Human Services Seminar.  The third condition was the timing imposed upon the Seminar . . . that several other concurrent events would be stimulated or improved only if planners adhered to the [November] date.

Human Service Needs of Howard County

Advocacy Task Force

Because of the wide dispersion of services available in Howard County and because of the lack of knowledge about these services, it is advised that an advocacy system be established which would incorporate the concept of “ombudsman.”

  • To convene a mini-seminar in each voting district of the County by January 31, 1972. These to serve as two-way communication between Seminar and consumers.
  • To establish a county ombudsman, or advocate with satellite offices.
  • To develop a 24-hour information and referral exchange.
From Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (compliments of Columbia Archives)
Aging Task Force

At the present there is no provision for the housing or care of the elderly — be it boarding, nursing, residential, or otherwise. This has substantially reduced the aged population in Howard County, because anyone requiring one of these facilities must be accommodated outside the County. The point was made that if Howard County carried its proper responsibility for its elderly, it would not only benefit the residents requiring this care – not to speak of their families – but remove an unfair burden on surrounding counties.

  • To develop barrier free, ground level access, to all public buildings, particularly those which provide services to the aging.
  • To develop a shopper service for homebound elderly and/or a mobile store.
  • To develop a special information booklet for the elderly of Howard County.
  • To assist in the creation of a residential environment especially designed for the non self-sufficient resident.
  • To promote special transportation arrangements for the elderly.
  • To provide foster homes for the elderly.
Community Mental Health Task Force

Community mental health services within Howard County have been of a limited nature in the past. There has not been established a community mental health system delivering comprehensive services as outlined under the various Federal guidelines resulting from the Community Mental Health Centers Acts of 1965 and 1963.

Services have essentially been limited to outpatient clinics set up by the health department, and some consultative communications (indirect services) between the mental health clinic staff and staffs of the Public Health Nursing Section and the Department of Education.

  • To provide education programs in the public schools and elsewhere on sex instruction, drug abuse, and family life
  • To promote the establishment of:
    • Halfway houses for runaways
    • Quarterway houses for alcoholics
    • Detoxification and rehabilitation center
    • Family Counselling and Psychiatric care programs
Education Task Force

The general consensus of the group was that no area of need in education was not already being studied or dealt with by some other group within the County.

  • Create a continuing program to train students to serve in student and community government, specifically the County School Board.
  • Create a Black Studies Program for all levels of education in the County.  Increase the number of black teachers to a level commensurate with the County’s black population ratio.
  • Institute programs for the building of skills in human relations, communication and personal growth skills for students and teachers.
  • Make County schools into Community Centers for day long and year round use.
  • Promote the use of non-certified by technically qualified persons as teaching resources.
From Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (compliments of Columbia Archives)
Employment and Poverty Task Force
  • To link vocation education in the county with available and potential job opportunities.
  • To assist a change in local employment practices making them more flexible.
  • To promote among local businesses a more positive attitude towards the hiring and promotion of blacks, women and minorities.
  • To discover and extend more local alternatives in career opportunities for blacks, women and minority groups.
Health and Handicapped Task-Force
  • Develop a sheltered workshop for handicapped in Howard County
  • Provide a more relevant education program for handicapped children within Howard County School System
  • Create a General Hospital for Howard County
  • Attract more physicians to the County
  • Train teachers to relate better to handicapped children
  • Establish program of adequate health care for all regardless of income
  • Change laws to allow physicians to practice in homes and commercial offices
  • Create a barrier-free environment for the handicapped
From Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (compliments of Columbia Archives)
Housing Task Force

The Housing Task Force shared a deep concern about existing substandard housing in Howard County; Complete lack of availability of housing options for low income families; No opportunity for purchase of new housing any where in Howard County for families with incomes below $9,672 for townhouses and $10,152 for a single family dwelling; Limited numbers of subsidized units in the county:

  • To develop a Public Housing Authority in Howard County to provide housing for low income families.
  • Take whatever steps are necessary to obtain rent supplements for low income families.
  • County Council to amend laws to allow for more low cost, low income housing opportunities consistent with metropolitan population.
Transportation Task Force

The lack of a public transportation system in Howard County is a serious handicap to many residents, especially the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Many Howard County residents live in rural areas far from major thoroughfares and lacking the use of a private car and have very limited access to employment, goods and services.

Of equal importance is the fact that the absence of a public transportation system has an adverse effect on the environment. The ever increasing number of singly occupied cars causes further congestion of roads and parking space as well as an increase in the accident rate and in pollution.

From Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (compliments of Columbia Archives)

It should be the responsibility of government to provide for a transportation system which is flexible, multi-faceted, and accessible to everyone. In order to achieve success financially and ecologically, a mass transit system must be convenient and economical for the passengers so that the use of private cars will become less desirable and less practical.

  • To develop a public transportation system easily accessible to all Howard Countians 24 hours a day.
  • Include transportation needs in the General Plan for Howard County
  • Illustrate to County officials that County progress is impeded because the lack of mass transit results in excessive transportation costs for local agencies, businesses and individuals.
  • Publicize the problems and some of the possible solutions.
Youth Task Force

The area of youth covers such a wide span of concerns only the issues which we felt were of the greatest importance were discussed in depth. As a result of our group discussions, we reached these conclusions:

  • Create a County-wide youth advisory commission to assist all governmental units in matters regarding young people.
  • Get more youth representatives on County boards and commissions.
  • Involve more youth in Friendship Exchange programs.
  • Create more recreation opportunities for young people in the County.
  • Eliminate restraints on smoking in the high schools.

Excerpts from the Report of the Howard County Human Services Community Action Seminar, January 15, 1972 (from Columbia Archives)

And what was the view in 2009?

Howard County’s Human Services Master Plan (HSMP) was developed through a partnership of the Department of Citizen Services and the Association of Community Services, with participation from a broad range of organizations and community members. Organized by population group, and covering a wide spectrum of human service issues, the HSMP outlines our community’s aspirations for its residents.

Individuals and families:
  • Are able to meet their basic needs
Children, youth, and families:
  • Are healthy
  • Children enter school ready to learn
  • Children and youth are successful in school
  • Children, youth and families are safe in their homes and communities
Older adults:
  • Maintain optimal mental and physical health
  • Engage in the life of the community
  • Live as independently as possible
  • Are safe in their homes and communities
People living with disabilities:
  • Enjoy the same opportunities as others
  • Have meaningful opportunities for education and employment
  • Are safe in their homes and communities


Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

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