Religious Leaders Taking Grassroots PATH to Influence Legislation

By George Berkheimer
July 2006

Leaders from a variety of religious backgrounds across Howard County have organized both themselves and a small army of volunteers with the intention of confronting what they see as the county's most dispiriting quality of life issues.
At a work session attended by more than 400 supporters in May, the founders of People Acting Together in Howard (PATH) challenged elected officials and candidates for office to hear what they have to say and work with them to help improve life for many of the county's least fortunate citizens.

Participants in the group include leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths who represent 38 religious institutions and organizations, as well as a youth group from Oakland Mills High School.

According to Father Gerry Bowen of the St. Augustine Church in Elkridge, the session moderator, PATH is patterned after Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and looks to sister organizations, such as Action in Montgomery and the Washington (D.C.) Interfaith Network, for mentoring, guidance and encouragement.
"It would be wrong of me not to use BUILD as an example of what can come from working with and cooperating with and even confronting our representatives," Bowen said, citing a list of accomplishments attributed to the 30-year-old organization that include winning America's first living wage, constructing and selling more than 700 homes for working and poor people and creating the first authority for children in America.
Setting Agendas
A contingent of political hopefuls attending the event expressed a willingness to meet with PATH leaders both before and after the fall election, including Sen. Ed Kasemeyer (D); Councilmen Guy Guzzone (D-Dist. 3) and Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2); Circuit Court Judges Richard Bernhardt and Louis Becker; and Delegates Frank Turner (D-13), Neil Quinter (D-13), Steven DeBoy (D-12A) and Jimmy Malone (D-12A). A host of county council candidates, Columbia Association members and General Assembly candidates were also in attendance.
County executive candidates Chris Merdon (R), Ken Ulman (D) and Steve Wallis (I), told PATH organizers they would accept an invitation to attend the group's next scheduled event, a county-wide action to be held on Oct. 8 at Oakland Mills High School.
"Some of our issues will be issues that can be addressed by a county council or county executive, but for others, we will have to look to Annapolis for cooperation," said Bowen, who added that the group aims to have gubernatorial candidates in attendance as well.
"We are radically non-partisan and do not endorse a candidate for office," announced Rev. Max Ware, pastor of the Cornerstone Community Church of God in Ellicott City. "The only candidate we will ever endorse will be our own agenda issues, which arise out of our house meetings. We will then ask all candidates running for office to endorse our agenda, rather than the other way around."
Power and Purpose
Rev. Paige Getty of the Universalist Unitarian Congregation of Columbia explained PATH's purpose. "We seek power," she told the crowd assembled at St. Augustine Church. "Three years ago, we weren't so comfortable admitting that we wanted power but we are reminded that power is simply the ability to act. And we recognize that Howard County needs a new kind of power, not to replace corporate or political power, but to negotiate and work with them to act on our values in the public square."
To date, PATH has formed so-called action teams around three areas of most concern to members of participating institutions: youth, transportation and housing. Guest speakers cited the need to improve connections and schedules for senior citizens who depend on public transportation and also illustrated the difficulties many have in finding affordable housing in the community or finding opportunities to engage the teens and younger adolescents who are at risk from negative societal pressures and lack safe recreational options.
Each of the teams will study problems associated with the issues and the groups of citizens they adversely affect, and will make recommendations for legislative action or policies in an effort to influence positive change.











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People Acting Together in Howard