Four students give others a break Community service: A Western Maryland College program -- Students Engaged in Rural Volunteer Experiences -- helps impoverished citizens repair their homes and community buildings.

April 07, 1996|By Lisa T. Hill | Lisa T. Hill,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

While their peers enjoyed the sun and sand of Florida, four Western Maryland College students and one administrator spent spring break pounding nails and painting rooms in a volunteer community service project.

The WMC-based program -- Students Engaged in Rural Volunteer Experiences -- helps impoverished residents of rural towns make repairs and additions to their homes and to community buildings. This year, the volunteers did the fund raising, but as a college program, SERVE is eligible for funds from the school.

Beginning March 13, students from the Westminster college spent 11 days in Dungannon, an old mining town in Virginia's southwest corner. "I was able to visit part of America I had never seen before but had always heard about," said Corrina Giglio, a graduate student in education of the deaf. "I liked being involved in something constructive, something really helpful."

SERVE was organized last year by Scott Kane, director of Residence Life, who had participated in a similar program while working at Loyola College.

Mr. Kane approached Dan Wooten, a WMC junior and student worker for Residence Life, and asked him to be a student coordinator for SERVE.

"I initially thought the program was something neat to do for spring break," said Mr. Wooten, a physics major. "It's inexpensive, and I would be able to get away. I knew I would be making memories that would last a lifetime."

Mr. Kane said the students chose Dungannon as the site of the program's first activity because it is one of the few towns with a formal program that is a host to volunteer organizations such as SERVE.

Through the Dungannon Development Commission, the town provides volunteers with food and lodging at its Phoenix Volunteer Center. The commission also puts volunteers in touch with local people who know about the work that needs to be done.

Not only did the students do repairs such as rebuilding a front porch, but they also helped build additional bedrooms on many homes.

Dungannon's county ordinance states that families must have separate bedrooms for opposite-sex children or "social services will step in," said Wanda Duncan, the commission's fiscal administrator.

The WMC volunteers said they were told that if the families could not provide separate rooms, their children would be put into foster homes.

Many Dungannon families do not have enough rooms in their homes and do not have the money to build them.

"I don't think it's right for people to have their kids taken away, or not to have a roof over their heads," said junior Tiffany Metzger, a sociology major and SERVE volunteer who worked on a new room for a little girl. "If you have the ability to help, you should."

Mr. Wooten said Dungannon residents are trying to make changes, but community organizers often "hit a brick wall" when looking for support to make needed improvements.

It took them years to get the money and support for a much-needed sewer system because the community did not have people with the knowledge to write a proper proposal for funding, Mrs. Duncan said. They finally were able to obtain a Community Development Block Grant after soliciting outside help, she said.

"It's frustrating," said Mr. Wooten. "These people are really trying to make a difference in their community."

Mr. Wooten said he gained much more than he expected.

"It's amazing to go into a town that doesn't have the things we take for granted but really need," he said.

The magnitude of their experience made the participants all the more disappointed that only four students volunteered. "I find it very disheartening that of over 1,200 students and many more faculty, staff, administrators and graduate students, only five were willing to give up their spring break to go," Mr. Wooten said.

Despite this year's small turnout, SERVE hopes to generate enough interest next year to send two groups.

"I saw the students grow on this trip," said Mr. Kane. "They recognize how good they have it and how rough life is for others."

And all who participated said they would go again, given the chance.

"I believe we saw the beginning of a program at WMC that will last a long time," Mr. Kane said. "It's very exciting."

For more information about SERVE, contact Mr. Kane at (410) 857-2240.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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