Student Volunteer Fills Needs Wherever She Finds Them

June 02, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

While majoring in public policy in college here, Carla C. Maranto has developed a private enterprise of her own.

The 19-year-old daughter of Salvatore E. and Pamela R. Maranto of Finksburg is not after fame and fortune, though. She said she has more humanitarian goals in mind.

"College kids can get so involved in their own microcosm, they are unable to see beyond the campus," said Maranto. "We should be experiencing more than textbooks and classrooms. We should be getting involved in our communities."

Determined not to isolate herself withinthe college walls, Maranto began to look for ways to help the surrounding community during her freshman year at St. Mary's College.

Through a program that pairs college and middle-school students who need assistance, she met a 13-year-old and the two became friends.

"He was a bright but unmotivated kid," she said. "My job was to act as a role model and help him to get better grades."

She also volunteered in a literacy program, helping a recovering drug abuser master basic skills.

Despite the off-campus work, she maintained a 3.5 average in a 16-credit course schedule that included Chinese.

"My parents were afraid I was overextending myself," she added. "But, I wanted to do more and I knew some other students who felt the same way."

When she returned to college as a sophomore, she began doing more.

"Friends said if I found the needs, they would help me fill them,"she said.

She circulated an information sheet among county organizations, nursing homes, and child advocate groups, asking what student volunteers could do for them.

The project, dubbed "For Goodness Sake" by its initial five members, was the basis of a student volunteer program.

"When we first started out, we had lots of interest, but little organization," she said.

The volunteers started a file of responses from the community. Within a month, they had a constitution and recognition from the Student Government Association.

The county Department of Planning and Zoning contacted the students, offering them their first chance to put their ideas into action. The department knew of a Cub Scout troop in need of a few extra hands to plant trees at Point Lookout State Park on the Chesapeake Bay.

Carla spread the word. One bright October day, she and 20 others headed for the beach along the county's southernmost stretch of land. Instead of swim togs, though, they took shovels.

As they drove into the park, they saw the young boys and their den mother struggling to plant 25 trees. Maranto said they welcomed For Goodness Sake with open arms.

"One woman and six little kids were having such a hard time with allthose trees," she said. "They were so grateful, they called us theirknights in shining armor."

That was only the beginning. Several organizations found the answer to "more help wanted" among the membersof For Goodness Sake.

A Thanksgiving canned food drive quickly turned dorm rooms into grocery warehouses. Through Intergenerational Magic Mix, a group formed to help elderly shut-ins, they learned to combine youth and age, energy and experience.

All one elderly man at Bayside Nursing Home wanted was to go across the street once a week and have a beer at his favorite tavern. He found a student volunteer who could manage that simple request.

In less than a year's time, the group has grown to involve more than 50 students in community service projects. They have worked as tutors to the young, companions to senior citizens and as activists in helping the environment.

Maranto traces her volunteerism back to her days at Westminster High School, where she was a student marshal. Marshals steered new students around the school, assisted at school functions and generally lent a hand where needed, she said.

St. Mary's College, half the size of WHS, was a little different.

"There was more need in the community than on the campus," she said. "A lot of economically disadvantaged people live around here, with tremendous drug and alcohol problems, too."

Christopher Smith, the college's director of internship, said heencourages volunteerism on the campus, adding the students can find "more than enough" to do.

"Many people don't realize the grave problems facing rural America," he said.

"We have a 50 percent high school dropout rate, poverty, homelessness and high alcoholism. Our community needs help."

The administration is hiring a full-time volunteer coordinator July 1. He said Maranto's work has paved the way for the new hire.

"Given the era that I came of age, the greedy Reagan years, I wondered if '90s students would really give up their timefor others," said Smith, 24. "My hopes came true this year when theydemonstrated their interest and concern to the college and the community."

Smith said the students will pick up the program again whenthey return from summer vacation. He hopes to work out a way for them to acquire some academic credit for their volunteer projects.

"Carla lit the fire," he said. "She should be really proud of her efforts."

Next year, Maranto will leave the directorship of For Goodness Sake to another student, while she takes on the duties of campus life assistant. She also is planning a year's study in China and maybe a career in politics.

"Politics is the only way to change things,"she said. "We have to learn to work through government to help people who need it most."

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