Doing well by doing good Family value: When parents, children volunteer on community projects together, they find it strengthens their relationships.

February 04, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Despite busy working lives and children going in different directions, some Maryland families volunteer together as a way to do good and feel good, create a caring spirit and, in the bargain, maybe learn how to pour a little concrete or fix a toilet.

"It's a great way to spend time together," said Stephen Allison, an Atholton High School honor society president who has planed doors, put in drywall, nailed and painted with his mother, Mickey Allison, in the People's Homesteading Group.

"I enjoy doing this with my mother. I was inspired by the ideals of the National Honor Society," Stephen said.

"I love it," said Ms. Allison, a part-time teacher at Howard Community College. "It's quality time with Steve. I've gotten to know him better."

She said she also has gained in other ways. "The homesteaders may not have the same finances, but they have so much to give us a sense of humor they're bright, intelligent. They've given us new skills. I've plastered, put in toilets, done electrical work, which I've then done at home. It's been fun."

Families participate in eye-catching, annual massive events such as Christmas in April (home rehabilitation) or Serv-A-Thon in May (city school fix-up). But in quieter ways, mom, dad and the kids also pitch in for community service week in and week out throughout the region.

With anecdotes, some nonprofit officials suggest a possible upward trend in family service, but no figures are available to confirm this. They praise family units as generally highly motivated and productive.

In the process, parents "teach children about their abilities to be problem-solvers in their own communities" and mold "a new generation of active citizens," said Cathy Brill, executive director of Volunteer Maryland, which encourages family volunteering.

Baltimore-area families serve in many ways:

* Cancer patients are the recipients of blood platelets donated by a Columbia family of four.

* Two mothers -- a lawyer and a drug company account manager -- and their daughters distribute food in a program that provides inexpensive fruits and vegetables in exchange for community service.

* A three-block area in Northeast Baltimore is regarded as better off since a couple and their son helped organize the Eierman Avenue Block Club, credited with cleaning up, cutting down crime, and looking out for neighbors.

* A widow and her son, striving to shake off the loss of husband and father, work almost daily as a medical assistant and as a handyman at Middlesex Elementary School in Baltimore County.

* A corporate senior vice president and his wife, a teacher, and their daughter and son, go from one volunteer project to another to fit their busy schedules.

Ms. Allison and her son, who live in Highland, volunteered individually at first for Habitat for Humanity or 4-H but found doing things together was doubly satisfying. It was the son's idea to team up for homesteading.

Experienced in hands-on physical work, Stephen said, "I'd like to also do more one-on-one with people," such as tutoring. His work is voluntary; his class of 1996 is not affected by the state requirement of 75 hours of community service that is being phased in for public high school students.

The platelet donors at the Hemapheresis Treatment Center at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center are Manny Flecker of Columbia, a computer sales manager with MicroCare Inc., his wife, Penny, who teaches hearing-impaired children at an elementary school, and their twin sons, Norman and Alexander, 22, seniors at the University of Virginia.

"My wife and I started when a friend had cancer at Hopkins. Our sons were too young to give [the minimum age is 17]. But when they were old enough, we talked about it, and they agreed. We're a close family. We try to be regular givers and have given five years as a family. I've done it about 40 times, Penny more than 30. Our sons try to give when they're home."

In a Linthicum warehouse every fourth Saturday, Ruth Riley, a lawyer for NationsBank, and her daughter, Kathleen, 9, pass out food for four hours. They escort buyers who benefit from the SHARE program (Self Help and Resource Exchange) -- sponsored by Catholic Charities but open to all. The program makes $14 food packages available to hundreds of people who do two hours of community service in return. Husband Michael, who volunteers in other projects, takes care of son Kevin, 4, in their Mount Airy home in Carroll County while his wife and daughter serve.

Ms. Riley said Kathleen "gets upset if we leave before it's over," and the fourth-grader said, "It's a good feeling helping get the food ready."

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