The nine months Katrina Fisher spent working with a mother who had been abusing her children all but drained her.
But after a break, the Crofton mother says she wants to be matched with another family through the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland.
Why would a single mother raising her own young son and working full time want to do that?
"Child abuse -- I can't tolerate it," said Ms. Fisher, 32. "If I can help one family, one kid who wouldn't have to suffer. . . ."
Ms. Fisher and 15 other volunteers for the private, non-profit agency were honored yesterday at a brunch donated by Hightopps Bar & Grill in Fells Point.
With a budget of $235,000 in grants, state money and donations, the agency relies on trained volunteers. More are needed to be matched with the 35 or so families on the waiting list at any given time.
Executive Director Zena Rudo estimated that the total 30 volunteers (some couldn't make the brunch) spent at least 26,000 hours with families. Paying professional therapists for that many hours would have cost $202,800, Ms. Rudo said.
The volunteers are mostly women who hold down full-time jobs andhave families of their own, but donate their time to be trained and to visit their "adopted family" twice a week for about a year.
They become a friend to the "client" parents, trying to reduce the stress that might lead to abuse. In some cases, parents already are known to have abused their children.
Brenda Baker, 34, of Severn, was afraid she would lose custody of her children when a lot of things started going wrong at one time two years ago: She and her husband separated, and she already had a hearing problem and a mentally handicapped baby. She was especially having trouble disciplining her son, now 5.
But her visits with volunteer Bonita Everette, 32, of Glen Burnie,have helped her learn to deal with her son's temper tantrums, she said.
"We might go over new recipes, and discuss alternatives to spanking her son," Mrs. Everette said. "She was afraid to discipline her son. She was letting him be the parent.
"My first interest is the kids," Mrs. Everette said. "But in order for me to help the kids, I'm here for her first."
Lynn Jackson, who supervises and trains the parent volunteers, said the parents often are isolated from friends or family.
"They have not had that support, and they don't know how to ask for it," Ms. Jackson said. But while most of the families are referred to the Child Abuse Prevention Center through agencies such as social services, the Waverly Family Center or the YWCA, more and more are calling in on their own for help.
Mrs. Everette first became a volunteer 2 1/2 years ago.
"On my own, I have always helped friends and neighbors," she said. "I wanted to do it on a volunteer basis to help a family that really needed it."
She has three children of her own and works full-time as a computer operator and accountant. Her husband, Milton, is always there to help or to let her "unload," she said.
Ms. Fisher used to take her son with her to visit the family, but eventually he started to dread the visits, and it was a struggle to get him to go with her, she said. The children had problems of their own, and he didn't much care to be around them, she said.
Her adopted family had more problems than most, she said, and it was a rough initiation to the volunteer work.
"I should take an easier [case] next time," she said, smiling.
If you'd like to know more the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland, either as a volunteer or potential client, call 576-2414.