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May 02, 2011
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) stops in Lexington Park on Monday to recognize Walden/Sierra and its executive director Kathleen O'Brien for providing more services with less local and state aid.
When Walden/Sierra closed the doors of its Leonardtown facility in November 2009, Executive Director Kathleen O'Brien pledged that the nonprofit counseling group's newly expanded Lexington Park location would pick up the slack.
On Monday, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) recognized the group for keeping its word.
Franchot visited Walden/Sierra's Hope Place facility in Lexington Park to present O'Brien with one of 24 "Better with Less" awards he is presenting to businesses in each of Maryland's counties and the city of Baltimore to praise them for thriving during the economic downturn.
Most of the awards are going to for-profit businesses, Franchot said, but Walden was a notable exception.
"We're going to have to reinvent how we deliver some of these services," Franchot said, noting that the economy has slowed and simply throwing more money at social services is no longer an option. "You have developed a way that, even with less money, you've managed to deliver more hope."
Franchot singled out O'Brien for further praise, saying, "We're really here to applaud and underline your leadership," he told her. "You've been able to take [budget cuts] and almost improve the product."
In October 2009, Walden consolidated its Leonardtown and Lexington Park offices into the Hope Place location after taking $270,000 in cuts from state and local budgets. "We did face quite a crisis with a quarter million of losses in such a short time," O'Brien said.
However, she said the consolidation resulted in reaching more people in the county's most densely populated area. "In many ways, it has been fortuitous."
According to Laura Webb, community engagement manager for Walden, since the group opened Hope Place, it has seen a 37 percent increase in adults utilizing co-occurring (substance abuse and mental health) services, a 30 percent increase in adults utilizing intensive outpatient program services and more than double the number of adults accessing low-intensity outpatient services.
In the meantime, the group managed to save 409 percent on its annual lease costs, even with the larger facility opened in Lexington Park. Walden has also used the Hope Place location to partner with the St. Mary's County departments of social services and human services, Three Oaks Center, Community Development Corporation and St. Mary's Hospital to offer collaborative services, Webb said.
O'Brien credited the tight-knit St. Mary's County's nonprofit community with the success of Hope Place.
"You can't do it alone," O'Brien said. "The strength comes from the coming together of the community."
County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said Walden's consolidation fits with St. Mary's County's goal of reviving Lexington Park's fortunes.
"We're working really hard on revitalizing Lexington Park," Morgan said, adding that the commissioners want to "bring it back to a stronger, better condition."
Commission President Francis Jack Russell (D) said, "We have a lot of people in this development district and we have a lot of need here. … These folks do a lot with practically nothing. They don't mind giving us hell when they think we need it."
Franchot said he hopes that state and local governments will recognize those organizations that weather the downturn when state revenues rebound.
"I really hope, when we get back to normal on the revenue standpoint, that good deeds get rewarded."
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