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  Free To Grow
  Mailman School
  of Public Health
  Columbia University
  722 West 168th Street,
  8th Floor
  New York, NY 10032

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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
Grantee Profiles

Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action

Organization Name Southern Maryland Free To Grow Program
State Maryland
Program Profile

Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee, Inc. (SMTCCAC), a private non-profit organization with an annual operating budget in excess of $10 Million, serves approximately 9,000 families with its family, housing, energy, health, transportation, and senior services programs.  The agency has operated a Head Start Program since 1967.  Today, nearly 600 low-income children and families in Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's Counties use its Head Start services.  In addition, the agency provides before and after school care, summer enrichment, and Evening Head Start programs to another 100 children. 

The target area for this Free To Grow program is Lexington Park, a rural community of close to 12,000 residents located on the banks of the Patuxent River near Patuxent Navel Test Air Center.  Lexington Park has the highest incidence of crime in St. Mary's County.  It also has the highest poverty rate, which at 14% is more than twice the countywide rate.  More than 50% of the children who attend the local elementary schools qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.  A growing Hispanic and Southern Asian population accounts for about 5% of the population. Although the local military base recently expanded adding some 5,500 new, high tech jobs they were of little help to many Lexington Park residents who lack the skills and education to compete for these higher paying positions.

The state of Maryland has selected Lexington Park as a "HotSpots Area," in need of anti-crime efforts. In fact, using HotSpots funding, the community has decreased its overall crime rate by 35% in the last several years.  In addition, the county commissioners have designated Lexington Park a revitalization zone and a "Smart Growth" Community.  These designations and related funding have brought with them a broad array of resources, programming, and partners to increase neighborhood safety and stability, including juvenile justice, local law enforcement, public schools, counseling and treatment facilities, as well as local service providers. Through these partnerships, the agency was able to expand the Head Start Program in each of the designated "HotSpots," implementing a full day, full year service to address the need for quality childcare. Education is a significant issue within the Lexington Park community.  Because many of the residents are affiliated with the nearby military base, Lexington Park is a transient neighborhood.  In fact, the transfer rate at the local elementary schools is 52% per year.  The schools are working closely with the community to address the need for before and after-school support and enrichment activities.  In fact, many of the schools open before 8 am and close after 11 pm to accommodate working parents.  This has helped reduce the adolescent crime rate by 65%. 

Free To Grow hopes to increase parental involvement, improve school attendance, affect a decline in school withdrawal/transfer, and improve residential stability.  In addition, Free To Grow hopes to empower the community to fight crime and drug use.  Because many families in the community lack a strong support system, SMTCCAC is pairing high risk families with more stable families who will act as mentors, modeling appropriate behavior and good family management practices.  Free To Grow will also work with new and existing community action groups to address issues such as crime, substance abuse, and home ownership.

Free To Grow's partners include St. Mary's County Public Schools, St. Mary's Sheriff's Department, St. Mary's County Housing Authority, Office of Community Services, Alliance of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, St. Mary's Department of Social Services, and St. Mary's County Health Department.

For more information, contact Marie Keys at (301) 274-4474 or via email at,


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.