Volunteers open hearts to urban children Countians take food, fun to youths SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

April 06, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

As volunteers hauled cartons from a van, a curly-haired child called from the window of the Agape House, a home for inner-city children in Baltimore.

"Are you coming here?" the child asked.

"We sure are," said Carol Deal, an Eldersburg resident who had organized Saturday's trip. "We came just to see you."

Moments later, another child, 9-year-old Mustafa, opened the door to the home, named with a Greek word for love.

Eight people from Carroll County visited the home to bring lunch to the children and spend a couple of hours helping them with crafts.

The group included five women from Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Eldersburg and three county high school students who are members of the National Honor Society. They were made to feel right at home by the 14 children, who range in age from toddler to 12.

"This is the place where God's love meets people's needs," said Carol deBorja, director of the home.

Ms. deBorja has legal guardianship of most of Agape's children. Many of their parents are struggling with substance-abuse problems and cannot care for them, and are unwilling to give them up for adoption.

The home provides an alternative, she said.

"Some parents are not involved in these children's lives," she said. "Some will eventually go back to their parents. Others will grow up here. While they are here, I want them to see as much happiness as they can."

Ms. deBorja, 63, opened the private home about 10 years ago. She has cared for 406 children since.

"Some stay for only a short time," she said. "Others I have had since they were infants."

Two of the children she helped raise to adulthood now help her run the home. "They want to give back something," she said.

She relies on donations of money and help to operate the home.

"We don't solicit any money," she said. "People fund-raise for us. Our pantry is so filled we have enough to give away."

Various groups, including Scouts and churches, help with the children, she said.

Among Saturday's visitors, Paula Creamer went to work in the kitchen, while others helped the children decorate cupcakes with jelly beans or turn plastic eggs into Easter bunnies and paper bags into smiling faces.

A few timid youngsters peered into the dining room.

"Come on in, guys," said Ms. Deal with a smile.

"Mom, there's another shy one out there," said Ms. Deal's 7-year-old son, Christopher, who had tagged along for the event. Ms. Deal scooped up the little girl and soon had her working on a paper bag.

The youngest child, an energetic 21-month-old named Marcus, toddled happily from one visitor to the next.

"Don't you eat that jelly bean," said a smiling Ms. Deal, but Marcus grabbed a red candy from the table and popped it into his mouth with a grin.

"Can I have just one pink one?" asked Karimh, 6. "It's my favorite color."

Joseph, 7, piled white icing and a jelly bean rainbow on his cupcake.

Then Ms. Deal asked him if he would like to try his hand at one of the crafts. "No, I want to keep doing this," he said, reaching for another cupcake.

Nevertheless, he soon became interested in making a bunny out of plastic eggs and pompons.

Missy Speck, a Westminster High sophomore, helped other children making cupcakes, saying just what they wanted to hear: "You can use all the frosting and jelly beans you want."

"This is a lot of fun because we are doing a lot of stuff today," said Sean, 8. "When are we going to eat these cupcakes?"

Other children filled large plastic eggs with candies and hoped Ms. deBorja would let them have an egg hunt.

"We had one of those at our school and it was fun," said Brandon, 5.

A slightly distraught Shaynaye, 11, looked up from her work. "Sean is going to eat all the cupcakes," she said.

"Don't worry, he is just decorating, not eating," Missy said. "I saved cupcakes for everyone."

At the other end of the table, several children used glue, glitter and felt to make eggs into bunnies.

Mustafa named his creation "Rooker T. Rabbit." Shaynaye added a veil and called hers "Bunny Bride."

Several volunteers snapped pictures of the children. "Can I take a picture of you and will you send us the pictures?" asked 9-year-old Louis. "I made my bunny look happy, and I'm going to give him to my dad."

The children are accustomed to the kindness of strangers. The littlest girls settled down readily in the laps of the teen volunteers.

"I really love doing stuff like this," said Courtney Davis, 17, a Liberty High student. "These children are so affectionate and they hardly know us. I would be willing to come again."

The volunteers served tuna salad for lunch, followed by homemade cookies.

"That's why you were in the kitchen all this time," Mustafa said to Ms. Creamer. "I know how to cook some things, too."

After lunch, Amanda, 12, led the group on a tour of her home.

"It's just like a mansion," she said. The only other home she remembers was destroyed in a fire when she was younger, she said. Her favorite room is the nursery, where she often enjoys playing with the babies.

"I rock them to sleep sometimes," she said. "When they cry, I tell them there is an angel just outside the window."

As the volunteers left, they promised to visit again.

"Don't wait till the holidays," said Amanda, waving from the steps. "Come sooner."

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