Helping hands, helping hearts Christmas may come only once a year but these volunteers just keep on giving

December 20, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

The holiday season, with its bright lights, gifts and gatherings of good friends and relatives, often heightens our awareness of those who are needy. But there is need in other months, as well -- and there are many who offer time, energy and love all year 'round. Here we take a look at just a few of them.

On the day a propane tank exploded in a Perryville sub shop last July, Wendell G. Baxter Jr. showed up in the Darlington $l Volunteer Fire Department ambulance to ferry injured firefighters the hospital. Then he came back -- to work for three days as a Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteer, helping people displaced by the fire.

After an arson fire destroyed an apartment building in Perryman in September and left 17 people homeless, Wendell Baxter -- a sergeant in the Bel Air police department -- joined his Disaster Action Team-mates in the effort to find them shelter, too.

In fact, whenever there's a disaster in central Maryland, Sergeant Baxter is likely to be among the DAT volunteers who provide immediate care and assistance to victims and rescue workers.

"We call him out on single family fires and when tornadoes touch down in the area, too," said Mike Ritter, assistant director of emergency services for the Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross.

After a stint as an Air Force MP, the Bel Air native came home to Harford County. In 1971, the 47-year-old joined the police force.

For the past several years, Sergeant Baxter has been with police-community relations, teaching the dangers of drug abuse in schools. A single parent whose youngest is now 18, he lives in Darlington.

"This is my community; I have the chance to show that I am concerned about it," he says. "I feel the good Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to do this."

For the 25 second-graders from Baltimore City's General Wolfe "Rainbow" school No. 23, the yard full of leaves was a blanket full of fun. As their bus disgorged them at the Baltimore County sheep farm known as Point of Ewe, they went running through the soft, crackling autumn cover.

Then they headed across the yard to see the sheep.

For Point of Ewe's owner, 49-year-old Linda Dorman, it was an opportunity as well.

"I always thought it would be neat to have inner-city kids come here and see the animals," said Ms. Dorman.

In September, while working as a volunteer on Maryland Public Television's "Project Reach Out," which asked viewers to pledge volunteer hours to education, she met the person who could help her arrange it, Ellestine Grant.

"We have people who work as tutors, mentors, classroom and office volunteers," said Dr. Grant, the director of Citizens in Volunteerism in City Schools (CIVICS). "We have individuals who work after school, who conduct clubs or do recreation programs on weekends."

Dr. Grant put Ms. Dorman in touch with Guinevere Berry, principal of the Rainbow School, where second graders have a volunteer project of their own -- making quilts for AIDS babies and elderly shut-ins. And here, suddenly, was their chance to see how fabric is made.

Thus gathered at the farmyard fence one morning last month, 25 children from the Rainbow School watched as Cindy Soth, a professional sheep shearer, shaved sheep; they were equally awed by Ms. Soth's border collies, which raced like lightning to round up sheep.

For Ms. Dorman, "The best part was at the end. I was saying goodbye, and one of them sneaked over to me and hugged me, and suddenly I had a ring of children around me, all of us hugging, all at the same time."

Gerri Kobren Maxwell Chibundu's achievements might serve as an inspiration to those determined to overcome disabilities. The 34-year-old Baltimore resident, who grew up in Nigeria and was educated at Yale and Harvard Law School, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. He has also been blind from birth.

But people with disabilities need more than inspiration and role models. They need practical training and useful technology -- Mr. Chibundu helps provide these, too.

He is a volunteer with Learning Independence Through Computers (LINC), a non-profit organization established in 1990

to help disabled children and adults -- including the physically handicapped, the developmentally disabled and those suffering from such learning disabilities as dyslexia -- take advantage of the benefits of adaptive computer technology. LINC is the Maryland affiliate of the Alliance for Technology Access, a nationwide network.

The organization's South Baltimore center, which opened in April, offers classes, workshops, outreach programs, and consultation for disabled computer users.

"I use computers quite a bit in my work," Mr. Chibundu explains. "A colleague of mine here at the law school told me that an outfit was being set up where disabled persons, particularly children, could have access to computer technology that would make it easier for them to learn and live fully productive lives."

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