Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason's recent walking tours have spurred him to appoint a special task force to determine how the county can better serve its citizens who are young, old, handicapped or disadvantaged.
Gleason two months ago began making impromptu visits to the county's poorer neighborhoods and various nursing homes and senior citizen communities in an effort to reach people he said he felt were "falling through the cracks" when it came to seeking help from the county.
Gleason has given the task force the job of responding to some of the specific needs that he said he recognized as a result of his walks through the county. His visits with handicapped citizens, for example, have convinced the executive that the next public swimming pool built must include facilities for helping handicapped people get in and out of the water, said Gleason aide Charles Maier.
"In the course of one of his walking tours, Gleason met a woman who has multiple sclerosis. Her only contact with the outside world is when her brother takes her shopping. But she has a very active mind and Gleason felt there should be some way to bring her out into the mainstream. So the task force will be studying the transportation needs of the handicapped," Maier said.
"Despite the combined effort of major departments and agencies in Montgomery County, we have not made enough progress in helping some of our less fortunate people," Gleason said. "The hard reality is that within our affluent community, there are thousands of elderly people, youngsters, handicapped and minorities who need help and attention and are not getting it."
Maier said Gleason hopes the task force can enlist youth to help senior citizens and to get senior citizens to help the poor and the handicapped.
"The task force will tell us what are the critical areas where we have to do more," Maier said.
Gleason has given the task force six months to complete its objectives. The task force's members include men and women who already work for the county government in areas that affect youth, the elderly, the handicapped, and the disadvantaged.
Appointed to the task force were: Lynn Chaitovitz and Linda Laskin of the department of human resources, Dale Koepenick, Linda Yost and Charles Steinbraker of the department of recreation, Elizabeth Gomez Del Rio of community and economic development, Barbara Williams of the Community Action Agency and Juan Martinez of the Takoma Park-East Silver Spring (TESS) Outreach Center.
Task force members will be excused from their regular county duties for the next six months.