Volunteer fair offers guidance on liability, child abuse and other issues

February 27, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

In this modern world, volunteers working with youth groups don't have to cope only with the familiar trials of candy sales and car pools.

They must also face liability problems, financial oversight issues and the specter of child abuse.

To help local volunteers learn to handle these issues, the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks will sponsor a volunteer fair from 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 26 at South Carroll High School.

"There's a vacuum out there" in training for volunteers, said Jeff Degitz, chief of the Carroll County Bureau of Recreation.

Mr. Degitz said that because many legal issues affect all volunteer organizations, and not just recreation groups, the bureau is opening the volunteer fair to all community organizations in Carroll County.

Training in areas such as child-abuse prevention protects both the volunteers and the youths they serve, he said.

Last April, Richard T. Mercer, a football coach for a team sponsored by the Westminster Optimist Club, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexual abuse of his players.

He had been a longtime volunteer with local youth athletic programs.

And in 1989 Clarence Yinger, a former president of the Gamber Volunteer Fire Company, began serving 38 years in prison for abusing junior firefighters 11 to 16 years old.

"It's obvious that there's the potential there for it to happen anywhere," Mr. Degitz said.

Eileen Cackowski, who trains volunteers through the Governor's Office on Volunteerism, said those who run youth groups can learn skills that will help them avoid such problems.

For example, members of community groups can learn interviewing techniques to help screen out potential abusers.

If a new volunteer says he is interested in working with blond boys ages 7 to 9, preferably from broken homes, Ms. Cackowski said, that is a clue that something is amiss.

She said she knows of one case where a thorough interview led to the rejection of a potential volunteer who insisted he had a "special gift" for working with 3- to 5-year-old girls -- but only in his own home.

Ms. Cackowski advises parents whose children participate in youth programs to find out how volunteers and coaches are screened, even if it is embarrassing to ask.

Those who attend the fair will be welcomed with coffee and doughnuts, followed by an hourlong session on prevention of child abuse in volunteer organizations, led by Kathi Hill, Carroll County assistant state's attorney.

Then participants may choose among sessions on other topics, including: risk management and liability, long-range planning, fund raising and how to motivate volunteers and to increase membership.

They may also discuss the relationship among local recreation councils, the Recreation and Parks Department and the public.

The sessions will be followed by a luncheon, where participants may mingle with vendors displaying sports equipment, uniforms, trophies and awards, and fund-raising items such as candy.

Mr. Degitz said he expects as many as 35 vendors to participate.

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