By helping others, he carries on family tradition

July 29, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Benjamin Bruce-Doe and members of his family say that social service work is in his blood.

His great-grandmother taught him the importance of giving to others when he was growing up in Liberia. His mother helps trauma victims throughout Africa.

And now, the North Laurel resident is being recognized for his work in the United States with the ARC of Prince George's County, an organization that helps disabled people.

Wednesday, the group sent him to the White House, where he met President Clinton as part of a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed four years ago by President George Bush.

His selection as the group's representative was the ARC's gift to Mr. Bruce-Doe for his commitment to the disabled, said Portia Willis, director of Bridges in Largo Park, a division of the Prince George's County group and Mr. Bruce-Doe's supervisor.

From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., five days a week, Mr. Bruce-Doe works for the ARC of Prince George's County. From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., he works for the ARC of Washington as a night supervisor in a group home for three elderly, disabled men.

In between, he volunteers with local organizations that help the needy -- and sleeps when he gets a chance.

"He just has that get-up-and-go spirit and loves to help others," Ms. Willis said. "Benjamin has really been instrumental in our program."

In December, the ARC of Prince George's County picked Mr. Bruce-Doe to organize and supervise the Program Without Walls, which began in March. It is designed to help disabled people do such things as go to movies, take mall walks, visit museums or buy food from a restaurant.

"It's helping them do what they want to do," Mr. Bruce-Doe said. "That's where we help. . . . We provide support for them to explore new opportunities."

In the Prince George's County program, Mr. Bruce-Doe is a guide for six disabled people. Two assistants work with him five days a week to escort the group throughout the Washington area.

Every morning, the tours begin with a walk around Landover Mall, where the group has made friends with elderly people who also use the mall for early-morning exercise. Then it's off to a museum or movie.

"I think that I have always had an affinity toward helping others," Mr. Bruce-Doe said.

That stems from family beliefs and practices that Mr. Bruce-Doe said he has witnessed throughout his life.

He was born in Accra, Ghana, and reared in Liberia, where he grew up with his great-grandmother, who taught him to be giving.

"She always told me generosity begins at home," Mr. Bruce-Doe said. "Now I volunteer a lot."

He received a certificate in pre-medicine in Liberia. But in 1988, he left the country before he could become a doctor because of rumors of the civil war that erupted in 1989.

He came to United States, hoping to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor. But paying for medical school proved an insurmountable obstacle. Instead, he decided to take some courses in business at Washington-area community colleges.

In 1992, he joined the ARC of Washington.

His mother is a trauma counselor in Liberia who helped people suffering from the shock of sniper attacks before the civil war started in 1989.

"I keep telling him it's in the family," said his mother, Elsie Bruce-Doe. "It's in the blood."

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