Ocean City -- As newly recruited volunteers, Jack and Dottie Mullin waited eagerly by the telephone for a frantic parent or a frazzled youth to call the Parent Network.
They waited. Hours passed. But not a single call came during the couple's first shift at the telephone for the network, a volunteer support group for parents and their youths who are working at or visiting the resort.
"It was bittersweet," Mrs. Mullin says. "We were sitting there on edge just waiting for a call. But it's good nobody called because that meant nothing was wrong."
But more often than they'd like, the phone does ring. Begun last summer by Bonnie Gisriel, a registered nurse and mother of six, the 31-volunteer Parent Network has received 95 phone calls. Parents who haven't heard from their sons or daughters in
weeks call. Newly independent youngsters call looking for transportation home or medical help.
"We felt if we let parents know we're here and available, Ocean City will attract kids who want to work," Mrs. Gisriel says. "We want parents to know there are people who care about these kids."
At the group's small, cramped office off 72nd Street, the silence belies the sometimes urgent tone of adult voices calling from Baltimore or elsewhere.
"We get all kinds of calls," says Mrs. Gisriel. "The most common call comes from a parent whose child is working here and they haven't heard from them. The parent is worried to death."
Typically, the child is fine but doesn't have a phone in his or her apartment and hasn't bothered to use a pay phone.
Parent volunteers track down the youth and ask him or her to call home. The network's phone is made available to the teen-ager free of charge.
But occasionally there are other reasons kids don't call home, Mrs. Gisriel says. A daughter may be pregnant. A son may have been evicted from his apartment or have lost his job.
Those circumstances prompt intervention. The Parent Network will refer youths to a variety of available services, including counseling and a free medical clinic off the boardwalk.
So far, the network, which operates on an annual $3,000 budget (from grants and community donations), has resolved all problems, including two recent cases of missing 15-year-olds.
One, missing since last week, turned up yesterday morning after volunteers plastered fliers around town and searched the boardwalk.
Calls and cases are kept confidential.
At least one grateful parent, Shirley Shellenberger of Chambersburg, Pa., has become vocal in her appreciation.
"I think what they're doing is excellent," says Mrs. Shellenberger, who called the network last summer after her son became stranded on the boardwalk.
It was midnight. His car had broken down and he and his friend, on their first independent trip, were about 20 miles from their Delaware campsite.
tTC Mrs. Gisriel and her husband drove the boys, 17 and 18, back to their camp.
"Most of the things they deal with are much more in depth," Mrs. Shellenberger says. "But they let me know they were there and they would help. I tried not to panic."
Volunteers are by the phone from 8 a.m. to midnight. After midnight, calls are forwarded to counselors at the youth health center on Caroline Street.
Mrs. Gisriel says the network is available year-round. Calls are forwarded to volunteers during the off-season.
"We want to keep the lines open," she says. "Kids are so important to Ocean City. We want them to be healthy and safe while they're here."
Who you gonna call?
What: Parent Network
Where: Ocean City