Collegians on spring break renovate inner-city house

April 01, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff Writer

For 10 students from Brown University, this year's spring break package is shaping up just fine, considering they paid a mere $140. Bright sunshine. B-52's on the radio, wailing on "Love Shack." Plenty of spackle.

Spackle? Yes, it's far more essential than Hawaiian Tropic if you're spending spring break in West Baltimore, renovating a rowhouse for the People's Homesteading Group.

And, with colleges' increasing emphasis on community service, a week volunteering in Baltimore may carry more cachet than a week sunning in Fort Lauderdale or Padre Island. In past years, college students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr have passed their time this way.

Certainly, these students had no qualms about the way they were spending their vacation.

"College is enough of an indulgence," said Muir Hooper, 19, a Brown freshman from Berkeley, Calif. "It's nice to give something back and do something that has real applications. You get neurotic sitting in a room all day, reading."

The program, in Baltimore for 11 years, is similar to other homesteading efforts. Houses are renovated, primarily through volunteer labor, then turned over to low-income families who also volunteer. There are no settlement costs, and the principal and interest payments on the 20-year loans average $300 a month.

The Brown students were assigned to Coppin Heights, where they worked on a vacant three-story house that was filled with trash before they arrived. Given four days to do their work, they were ahead of schedule by midweek, and their supervisor, Lynwood Keene-El, was trying to find more for them to do.

"They're workaholics, I'm serious," he said of his crew. "They don't even stop to take breaks. Everything they do, they go all out."

"My mom keeps calling me and telling me about all those things to do in Baltimore," said Farrell Allen, a 19-year-old from Little Rock, Ark. "She says 'There are such nice gardens in Annapolis.' I don't think she gets it."

Mr. Keene-El, who lives with his family in Sandtown-Winchester, is working toward getting a house though the People's Homesteading Group. Required to volunteer 2,000 hours -- about 30 hours a month -- he's halfway there and soon will select a house from those available. He may even pick the one on which the Brown students have lavished so much attention.

As for the students, they have begun to think of the West North Avenue house as theirs.

"I love this house. I love this house," said Laura Blachman of Los Gatos, Calif., one of two students leading the group. "I can't bear to leave it."

The students finished their work yesterday, but they haven't finished with Baltimore. Last night, they were scheduled to prepare and serve dinner at Christopher's Place, a men's shelter that provided them with showers each night. Today, they plan a quick tour before heading back to Brown in Providence, R.I.

So, did any one of the 10 even consider a more traditional spring break?

"I might have gone traveling with some friends, gotten in a car and seen how far we could go," said Mike Richard, a senior from Bellows Falls, Vt. "But I would rather do this."

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