Fallout Shelter: a safe place to hang outOne night...


January 02, 1994|By Jean Marbella

Fallout Shelter: a safe place to hang out

One night, someone got up and read from that great philosopher, Dr. Seuss. Another night, a guitarist helped raise money for medical supplies for El Salvador.

You never know what, if anything, will happen at the Fallout Shelter, a year-old coffeehouse at Western Maryland College in Westminster. Or, sometimes, even when.

The student-run hangout, on the bottom floor of the Daniel MacLea Residence Hall, is usually open Thursday and Friday nights, but its hours and happenings are subject to whim. As the catchword of this generation goes, "whatever."

"It fluctuates with people's stress level," says Jered Ebenreck, 20, a junior majoring in philosophy and one of the students who organized the coffeehouse. "It's pretty ad hoc, a casual hangout-type place that we hope is an alternative to the beer-drinking, social-life scene."

Students, and sometimes faculty, gather in the Fallout to drink 25-cent coffee, tea or hot chocolate, read or listen to poetry or engage in that favorite collegiate activity: the intense discussion.

"It can change in a moment -- you can be talking about nonsense one minute, and then suddenly you're talking about politics," says Mark Geary, 22, a senior English major and another organizer.

The decor -- a lava lamp, a stereo with just one tape (at least it's a Billie Holiday album), some pictures of Elvis and year-round Christmas lights -- is left as much to happenstance as everything else.

There are no plans to go upscale or try to make a profit (the current proceeds merely go toward buying more supplies) or formalize things beyond perhaps publishing a list of entertainment or speakers.

"One night, I decided to show the movie 'Blade Runner,' so I brought my VCR in. Someone else was typing a paper," Mr. Geary says. "It's just a nice, relaxing place the way it is."

Thirty years in school and Joyce A. Almond never made it past kindergarten. For that she is grateful.

"I just enjoy working with young children, it's very rewarding," says Mrs. Almond, who has taught at Chadwick Elementary School in Baltimore County for two of those three decades. "I have a lot of patience. It was something I was supposed to do."

Just the same, Mrs. Almond has taken a gift for teaching beyond her classroom of tiny tots. A year ago, she and her sister, Linda Williams, began "Just Write," a literary newsletter written by and for elementary school students. Today, offerings with intriguing titles such as "Green Gurgle Grass Pie," "The Darkness," "How Does the World Move?" and "Bill of Rights for the California Condor" pour in from Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

About 1,000 children subscribe to "Just Write, which appears monthly during the school year. "It's amazing what it does for their self-esteem," Mrs. Almond says.

Every month, she culls through about 100 submissions, which she assembles on her home computer.

"We've really been so lucky to have her as a kindergarten teacher for both my children," says Valerie Heron Salley, mother of Sam and Jessica. In a letter commending Mrs. Almond, she writes, "Every day I see the joy she gets when a 5-year-old composes a sentence or simply writes a word."

Subscriptions to "Just Write" cost $11.95 plus 60 cents tax for

nine monthly issues. Address inquiries to "Just Write," 6400 Baltimore National Pike, No. 293, Baltimore, Md. 21228-3915.

Stephanie Shapiro

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