Hands on Baltimore, a nonprofit service agency, has collected some good excuses for not volunteering and put them on a T-shirt:
"You mean for free?" "The cable guy is coming between 9 and 5," thought that was just for firemen," "They're calling for flurries" and "I'm too busy."
Hands on Baltimore (HOB) will challenge anyone who says, "I don't know how or where to go." In addition to churches, schools and nonprofit agencies, HOB is a place to call if you think you might like to try volunteering, have only two or three hours on a specific night or weekend and want to do something with your hands.
Executive Director Maria Feit, Paula Silverman and Debbie Katz, the three paid staff members, will pull out their monthly projects calendar and get you started. They supply volunteers for other charities and direct their own projects, like Team Works, which provides mentoring for inner-city children every other Saturday.
Let's say you have three hours Thursday. Three projects are available that night: the YWCA Homework Club in downtown Baltimore, helping girls with schoolwork; Trailblazers, mentoring fifth-grade girls from West Baltimore; and Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment), serving an evening meal to homeless men in a traditional dining setting.
If you prefer another project on another night or weekend, you can pick something from a list of 30 agencies. The choices are many -- assisting in day care programs, painting houses in a low-income rehabilitation project, baking for homebound people who have AIDS, working at Red Cross blood drives, cleaning up streams, planting trees and flowers or playing bingo with seniors.
After deciding what to try, you'll get a 45-minute orientation at HOB's office at 36 S. Charles St. Then, you'll meet the HOB project coordinator, also a volunteer, and arrange to work at the frequency and duration suiting you and the job -- days, nights, weekends; weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even less frequently.
The aim of HOB is to make it easy to volunteer. If you can make it, fine. If you're pressed, just call and, maybe, reschedule.
There are a few limits to the service opportunities through HOB, which is funded by foundation, corporate and private money and loosely connected to a national group, City Cares of America. City Cares was started by six young New Yorkers sitting around a living room in 1990, frustrated by some traditional volunteer agencies.
"We're brokers who send people to direct service projects," Ms. Feit said. "We don't provide volunteers for advocacy projects [such as political activities], fund raising or administration [paperwork]. Generally, people want to get out there and do something with their hands. They must be 16, unless in some cases they're with adults."
A rough profile of the 1,500 who volunteer through Hands on Baltimore shows a relatively new breed of volunteer -- people in their late 20s and 30s, often office workers itching to get into "the real world" of service.
Stephen A. Gido, 26, a financial analyst with USF&G Corp., seems typical. He is close to his three living grandparents and is deeply interested in the elderly. Once a month, he and three or four other volunteers ages 22 to 35 talk with, play bingo with, read to and socialize with the elderly in the Keswick Adult Day Care Center.
"I think the elderly are often overlooked," the enthusiastic Mr. Gido said. "I volunteered, Maria looked around and found Keswick. Our friends are Alzheimer's patients, people who can't physically get around.
"Hands on Baltimore is great because it's no pressure for busy volunteers; you come when it's convenient for you."
Volunteers may graduate to a more intense level, such as a program like Team Works, the mentoring project developed by HOB.
"We recruited 12 special volunteers for Team Works," Ms. Feit said. "With the school's help, we matched them with 12 students from Lombard Middle School in East Baltimore." They met every other Saturday for three months in fall 1994 to clean streams, work with the Food Bank and provide senior day care.
Team Works was expanded last year to include students from Diggs Johnson Middle School in West Baltimore.
The biggest event of the HOB year will be the third annual "Serv-A-Thon" on May 11, aimed at sprucing up city schools. Fifty volunteers spend much of the year planning the citywide event, supported by corporate sponsors. Last year, 800 volunteers gathered at Memorial Stadium for breakfast, then spent the next six hours in 21 city schools.
They painted 84 walls, 310 doors, three parking lots and three floors. They sorted books in eight libraries, picked up 211 bags of trash, cleaned 14 playgrounds, cleared five acres of land, caulked 120 windows, cleaned 50 desks, and planted 112 flowers and shrubs.
Interested in volunteering as an individual or as a family? Or care to organize competitive teams as rivals Amherst and Williams college alumni did last year? On May 11, HOB is looking for 400 more volunteers for a total of at least 1,200. Call 547-8810.