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Growth and education were on people’s minds as Charles County residents and candidates for election in 2014 mingled Saturday afternoon at the Chin Hamaya Culture Center in Waldorf.

The event, organized by Alliance for Leadership in Government, was an opportunity for residents to learn more about who they would like to vote for in the primary election in June and the general election in November. Candidates also had the opportunity to meet one another.

“We saw a need in the county for some voter education,” said Laurie Thorwart, a volunteer with Alliance for Leadership in Government, a group of Charles County residents who are committed to working with the county’s leadership.

Thorwart said that 45 to 48 candidates turned out Saturday for what ALG hoped would be an opportunity for open and free debate between candidates and residents. ALG contacted candidates running for local and state offices.

“We’re very pleased with the turnout,” Thorwart said.

Latrina Carr of Waldorf, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Kosovo, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, said she is concerned about education in Charles County. A mother of three, ages 21, 18 and 9, Carr came to Saturday’s forum to talk with the people running for county commissioner and the board of education to see whose ideals line up with hers. Carr ran for county commissioner in District 3 in 2010.

“This event did help me a lot,” Michelle Fowler of Waldorf said. Fowler is a real estate agent in Waldorf and moved to Charles County 13 years ago from Ohio. She said she attended the forum to get to know candidates and came away with a better understanding of whom she will vote for this year.

Fowler said her 18-year-old son, Zachary, attends St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown because a private school could better meet his needs than the public school system since he was diagnosed with diabetes.

“I really want to see teachers get back on the board of education because they know the realities [of the public school system],” said Fowler, a member of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee, Zonta of Charles County, and the boards of directors for the United Way of Charles County and the Charles County Children’s Aid Society.

Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) congratulated ALG for organizing the forum. Robinson is running for re-election in District 1.

“To get more than 40 candidates together on a Saturday afternoon speaks volumes,” Robinson said.

Robinson said he met residents at the forum who were more educated about issues than he expected. He also met some residents he had never met before. He was looking forward to meeting residents one on one at the forum, and said he makes himself available to any community group that wants him to attend an event and meet with residents.

The county issue that Robinson said he heard the most about from residents at the forum was growth.

“Grow right, grow smart,” Robinson said.

He added that slowing growth used to always be heard from environmental groups, but now “it is the No. 1 issue I’m hearing from people,” Robinson said.

“I want to get involved because I want to make sure every child has en equal opportunity at an education,” said Richard Wallace of Waldorf, candidate for the school board and father of two. This is Wallace’s first run for office.

A veteran who served in the U.S. Navy and got out in 1991, Wallace said that parents need to prepare their children for the workforce. He suggests full-day kindergarten, more dual enrollment opportunities for high school students and vocational training for students who do not plan to attend college.

“When parents get involved in education, children perform higher,” Wallace said.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com