Baltimore's Magic Me is planning expansion

April 03, 1994|By Karen E. Ludwig | Karen E. Ludwig,Contributing Writer

Magic Me, a Baltimore-based volunteer program that links youths with the elderly and disabled, is poised for a nationwide expansion.

The program plans to add dozens of sites across the nation over the next five years and to open a national headquarters in Baltimore in 1995, said Lynn Bopp, Magic Me's director of development.

"There is such a big demand out there for Magic Me programs from all over the world, especially with the national attention that has been given to community service," she said, adding that more than 50,000 youths and elderly have participated in the program since it was founded in 1980.

Magic Me has programs in nine Maryland counties and affiliate programs in more than 35 cities in the United States, as well as London and Paris. The waiting list for start-up programs includes 127 schools and nursing homes in 30 cities, Ms. Bopp said.

The key to expansion was a recent $200,000 grant from the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The grant will provide scholarships for low-income communities across the nation to train volunteers and start programs, said Magic Me Executive Director Alfred de la Cuesta. The Weinberg grant will allow expansion to as many as 40 new sites, including about 10 in Maryland. Magic Me officials could not estimate the overall expansion for the next five years.

Magic Me works with youths who have been "abandoned by the system as no-hope cases," involving them in volunteer service to the elderly and disabled, according to Ms. Bopp. Most of the students are from public middle schools.

The program at Calverton Middle School in Baltimore begins with a standard orientation, in which students are constrained with masking tape and wear earplugs and eyeglasses smeared with petroleum jelly.

"We simulate limitations that elderly people have so they know what it is like to be trapped inside a body that doesn't do the things you want it to do," Ms. Bopp said.

With this new perspective, the children travel weekly to the Waxter Adult Day Care Center in Baltimore. On a recent visit, they planted flowers with Waxter residents to celebrate spring.

Goldie Rhodes, 84, grabbed partner Brenda Sykes' arm and gave her a hug and kiss.

"How are you?" asked Brenda, a Calverton seventh-grader.

"I got a new pocketbook," Ms. Rhodes told her excitedly.

They sat and chatted before planting. Ms. Rhodes didn't like to put her hands in the dirt to plant the seeds, so Brenda helped her.

"It makes me feel good to know that I can come here and make someone happy and just do something good for someone else," Brenda said.

"I think it's very nice for them to come here and help older people," said Luther Jones, 86.

The program benefits the students, says Hattie N. Washington, assistant superintendent of public schools for Northwest Baltimore.

Students in the program have improved in attendance and academic achievement and are suspended from school less frequently, said Ms. Washington.

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