Angela B. Calamari grew up in a cold-water flat in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, N. Y., and started her career as a social worker.
So when the Ellicott City teacher began to work with a Baltimore City church's social service outreach center two years ago, she knew twoimportant things.
She knew the problems of poverty in the city and she knew not to go in as Lady Bountiful tossing coins from her carriage to the poor.
"One of the things I think is particularly characteristic of Angela is that outgoing personality. She just makes everyone feel very comfortable," says Sister Charmaine Krohe, pastoral associate at St. Ambrose Catholic Church and director of the St. Ambrose Outreach Center on Park Heights Avenue in the city.
Calamari, a kindergarten teacher at Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City, will be honored tomorrow by the National Catholic Education Association as one of 12 distinguished teachers, each representing a diocesan region of the United States.
The region that includes Maryland covers nine states from West Virginia to Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Calamari makes others comfortable by being that way herself.
She jokes that she doesn't have time to worry about whether she should have a mid-life crisis -- even if she did just turn 40.
And she treasures all her students' comments, from "You make the best base" -- a reference to her role in their playground games of freeze tag -- to "I like that dress."
Five years ago, husband John Calamari's profession as a scientist with Litton Industries brought the family south from Long Island, N.Y. They settled in Howard County because the schools had a good reputation and they had friends here.
The couple hadmet at New York City's Queens College, from which Angela Calamari graduated in 1971 with a double major in sociology and education. As her husband's job took them from New York to New Hampshire and back again to New York, she took jobs as a social worker, teacher, real estate sales representative and banquet manager.
When the family settled in Ellicott City, Calamari had a chance to return to teaching, the profession she says she loves best. She joined the faculty of Resurrection-St. Paul as a first-grade teacher in 1985, and two years later was asked if she would like to start a kindergarten program. She saidyes.
Five-year-olds "are so enthusiastic and have such wonder forthe world around them," Calamari says.
"They want to learn and they're starting to think, which is kind of neat. You can see the wheels turning and even if it's off the wall, you can channel their thoughts."
Starting with a single session for 20 children, the kindergarten program's enrollment grew and expanded to two sessions this school year, with 36 children enrolled.
Kindergarten is a family project.
Husband John does carpentry. Son Christopher, 16, a student at Centennial High School, and daughter Laura, 13, a student at Dunloggin Middle School, help with cutting, pasting, drawing and gluing.
Family members also help with projects for the St. Ambrose Center. They deliver turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas and organize weekly summer swim parties at the Calamari home for center clients.
Calamari says she couldn't handle social service and her job without her family's help.
"You think 'I can't do one more thing,' " she says, but then someone asks and she tells them, " 'I'll talk to my family,' and Chris says, 'Oh God, I'll have to make dinner again.' "
The connection between Resurrection and St. Ambrose churches was forged twoyears ago when Calamari was forming a social justice committee.
Sister Krohe learned of the new committee and asked for support for the center she heads.
The outreach center is in a black community and has developed programs to meet community needs, Sister Krohe says.
The center has a soup kitchen, an emergency aid fund, adult literacy program, after-school tutoring for teen-agers, summer camp for children and health care for the homeless.
"Resurrection has been instrumental in supporting our needs," the center director says.
One of the first major needs she brought to the social justice committee was a van to provide transportation to summer camp, health care centers or job interviews for the center's clients.
Calamari, who keepstelling her students and her children that nothing is impossible, thought maybe she could put together enough money for a used van.
She started by approaching the parish council, whose members, unbeknownto her, had been discussing a $15,000 surplus shortly before she entered the meeting.
Calamari went in and described Sister Krohe's need. The council members gave her the $15,000.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather," she says. "That is God at work, I reallybelieve that."
Now the social justice committee is enlisting the talents of Resurrection Church members to help St. Ambrose buy and renovate two houses in Baltimore that will be rented to low-income families.
An architect from the Ellicott City parish evaluated the twohouses and an attorney has agreed to donate the legal work involved.
Calamari says social service is connected to teaching, and to herefforts to have youngsters learn about sharing and helping others.
"It carries over with love and Christian values," she says.