From a ballet major to an environmental buff Volunteer: Wednesday Szollosi, an AmeriCorps worker for Volunteer Maryland, has sown seeds for improving Maryland state parks' volunteer programs.

July 07, 1996|By Kathleen B. Hennelly | Kathleen B. Hennelly,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Wednesday Szollosi has done everything from scrubbing toilets to public relations at the Patapsco Valley State Park this past year -- and she's done it for very little pay.

Szollosi, 25, who grew up in Colorado and Anne Arundel County, has gone from ballet major to environmental buff -- spending two years working in the park and before that in Ohio as one of the 20,000 nationwide AmeriCorps volunteers. Her term of service ends this month.

She is the only AmeriCorps volunteer in Howard County and one of 60 in the state. She's paid minimum wage with no overtime, plus a stipend of $4,750 per year that can only be used for college tuition.

During the past year, Szollosi has improved such programs as the Volunteer Rangers and the Volunteer Naturalists, both unique to Maryland state parks.

"Her program is now a model for the entire state," said Carrie Suhr, the program manager at Volunteer Maryland, the 3 1/2 -year-old AmeriCorps subsidiary that hired Szollosi.

At the state park, her official job title is volunteer coordinator, but she does just about everything and anything at the park. Her philosophy is to lead by serving -- so she, for example, picks up garbage along with the rest of the volunteers at the park.

She has recruited more than 120 volunteers to work at the park and now has organizations knocking on her door to adopt park areas.

Funding for park staff is shrinking, Szollosi said, "if we want to have state parks that function, to have trained volunteers to help the staff with the upkeep."

When Szollosi talks about her work, she lights up.

"Our volunteer files are bursting at the seams," she said. "The trails are teeming with people now when we have trail pick-up days. We want those who use the park to give back to the park. And they are."

Szollosi started her campaign of service at the University of Utah where she originally went to study ballet. She changed her mind about her major after she went to Costa Rica on a school-sponsored mission to plant trees.

"I went to Costa Rica, to the disbelief of everyone I knew, to prove to them I had more to me than just ballet," said Szollosi. She ended up changing her major to environmental studies and becoming the university's director of environmental and recycling programs.

After graduation she applied to Vista, an AmeriCorps subsidiary -- first working with a Headstart program in Cincinnati aimed at giving vision tests to low-income preschoolers.

After one year, Szollosi decided she wanted to get back to her course of study -- the environment -- a decision that brought her to Maryland.

Volunteer Maryland is among 450 nonprofit and government organizations under the wing of AmeriCorps. Suhr, program manager of Volunteer Maryland, said that more than 90 percent of the state group's volunteers continue to volunteer or work in their areas of service after their service is completed.

That is Szollosi's goal. She wants to sign up even more volunteers at Patapsco State Park and get them to commit themselves by undergoing training. If she's been successful in her work, she said, the park won't need to replace her when she leaves.

After her park work, Szollosi said she's headed for American University, where she'll be a teaching assistant in environmental studies, and Kenya, where she plans to lead a trip this fall for the university.

Volunteer Maryland is soliciting applications for volunteers. Information: (410) 514-7270.

Pub Date: 7/07/97

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