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Posted at 6:49 PM ET, 11/17/2010

Lifting up Tobytown's abandoned

By Judith Church Tydings, Ijamsville

Regarding the Nov. 14 Metro article "Poverty amid plenty in Potomac":

I volunteered alongside a worker in the Volunteers in Service to America program in the mid-'60s in Tobytown near Potomac, so I read with interest reporter Annie Gowen's account of the plight of those who live there today. Long before the 1980s version of Friends of Tobytown, I established the 1960s version with Sister Mary Alberic, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. One of our first efforts was to provide a lending library, especially for the children, in the midst of the tar paper shacks. We then organized 13 local churches into what we called Potomac Fish, providing free emergency transportation and food, and we rented space and ran a clothing closet in Potomac Village where gently used clothes sold for less than a quarter.

Children from Tobytown attended Travilah Elementary along with my four children, and school parents worked especially hard to enhance the school experience. Sister Mary Alberic was eventually transferred, I went back to teaching and others took our place. Residents of Tobytown and other "poverty pockets," as we called them in the '60s, needed and still need more than a few volunteers can provide. Eugene Robinson, in his book "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America," suggests a "domestic Marshall Plan" for "the Abandoned," people like the men, woman and children of Tobytown. They can't reach for the American dream because the bottom rungs of the ladder are missing.

By Judith Church Tydings, Ijamsville  | November 17, 2010; 6:49 PM ET
Categories:  Montgomery County, development, economy, education, housing, schools  
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Comments

When I look at Tobytown I see assets, not detriments. Residents wanting to
work, a prime location in one of the wealthiest zip codes and counties in
the nation, and the resourcefulness of residents, neighbors and officials.
Start a farmer's market, a home improvement worker's co-op, a jitney van
service a "slugs" ride service. Try initiatives, not charity. The area is
visited and appreciated by thousands of hikers, kayakers, cyclists, soccer
families and even equestrians. Places to shop close by: nil. All these factors
can come together in rewarding projects for Tobytown.

Posted by: RiverTim | November 18, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

As an 18 year former resident of Potomac, I don't think I even knew about Tobytown. This embarrasses me as I enjoyed an affluent life-style so close to incredible misfortune by so many people.After reading the article by Annie Gowen, my curiosity drove me to visit this small community. I recently did so, meeting and speaking with several very nice residents about how the community could be improved. They talk about "white folks" stopping to take pictures and leaving quickly if approached. Further commentary told me that when Ms.Gowen was there with a photographer, that pictures were taken of some of the children without parental permission and that at least two children were promised bicycles in exchange for their "testimony". Ms.Gowen calls this community "remote". In truth, it is a stone's throw from River Road and yet no bus stops for them. She further states that funds for kids programs were cut off. While it is true that there is not much available for the kids, there is something. A community center open from 3-6 each afternoon. Apparently there is a rather indifferent young lady there who rules with a heavy hand. Kids older than about 15 are not allowed in. There are computers that "maybe work" some of the time. Homework assistance is apparently part of this lady's assignment yet I was told that she really does not enjoy helping the kids, and has, on occasion, given them help which was simply factually incorrect.The Housing Authority was mentioned several times in my conversation as being at best, indifferent, to the concerns of the community. There is a meeting scheduled for the 6th of December to establish a Home Owners' council. There is a man there now named George who rules with an iron hand, seeming to make up rules as circumstances please him. The plan is to oust him and choose representatives selected by the residents. Annie Gowen should be at that meeting to accurately report what happens in Tobytown. Even with budget restraints, the Housing Authority could easily fix some of the problems. From my experience in the Peace Corps, and after having directed almost 40 missions to El Salvador, I can tell you that the key to success is to teach the residents themselves to direct programs in their community. How hard can it be to enable them to run their own shuttle bus service? How hard can it be to train them to operate the Community Center? Maybe if there was an effort shown by all of us, then these proud people can become more self sufficient and take pride in a contribution to the whole community as opposed to being cast-off and ostracized by those so affluent around them. I can't help but wonder that if this community were white, would these conditions continue to be ignored by our government, by political candidates who posted signs but who apparently spoke to no one. These people simply want the chance to help themselves. In Montgomery County, they deserve this chance. Shame on all of us if they can't get it.

Posted by: mylesgladstone | November 22, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

As an 18 year former resident of Potomac, I don't think I even knew about Tobytown. This embarrasses me as I enjoyed an affluent life-style so close to incredible misfortune by so many people.After reading the article by Annie Gowen, my curiosity drove me to visit this small community. I recently did so, meeting and speaking with several very nice residents about how the community could be improved. They talk about "white folks" stopping to take pictures and leaving quickly if approached. Further commentary told me that when Ms.Gowen was there with a photographer, that pictures were taken of some of the children without parental permission and that at least two children were promised bicycles in exchange for their "testimony". Ms.Gowen calls this community "remote". In truth, it is a stone's throw from River Road and yet no bus stops for them. She further states that funds for kids programs were cut off. While it is true that there is not much available for the kids, there is something. A community center open from 3-6 each afternoon. Apparently there is a rather indifferent young lady there who rules with a heavy hand. Kids older than about 15 are not allowed in. There are computers that "maybe work" some of the time. Homework assistance is apparently part of this lady's assignment yet I was told that she really does not enjoy helping the kids, and has, on occasion, given them help which was simply factually incorrect.The Housing Authority was mentioned several times in my conversation as being at best, indifferent, to the concerns of the community. There is a meeting scheduled for the 6th of December to establish a Home Owners' council. There is a man there now named George who rules with an iron hand, seeming to make up rules as circumstances please him. The plan is to oust him and choose representatives selected by the residents. Annie Gowen should be at that meeting to accurately report what happens in Tobytown. Even with budget restraints, the Housing Authority could easily fix some of the problems. From my experience in the Peace Corps, and after having directed almost 40 missions to El Salvador, I can tell you that the key to success is to teach the residents themselves to direct programs in their community. How hard can it be to enable them to run their own shuttle bus service? How hard can it be to train them to operate the Community Center? Maybe if there was an effort shown by all of us, then these proud people can become more self sufficient and take pride in a contribution to the whole community as opposed to being cast-off and ostracized by those so affluent around them. I can't help but wonder that if this community were white, would these conditions continue to be ignored by our government, by political candidates who posted signs but who apparently spoke to no one. These people simply want the chance to help themselves. In Montgomery County, they deserve this chance. Shame on all of us if they can't get it.

Posted by: mylesgladstone | November 22, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

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