Need for volunteers for Md. youth stressed Summit hears helpers relate joy of service

October 10, 1997|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Like a team of scientists who discovered a miracle vaccine, Richard Grow, Katrina Scott, Demitress Cunningham and Tracy Little divulged a secret yesterday that could save a generation of Maryland children.

During the past year, each of the students has helped other young people as volunteers. Their discovery: what a powerful thing a simple act can be.

"The feeling you get from helping, it's impossible to explain," said Grow, 17, of Stevensville, who heads a team of student mentors at Queen Anne's County High School. "You get a sense you're really accomplishing something. You want to take on the world."

Such inspiration was not hard to find yesterday at the Baltimore Convention Center, where more than 1,200 people from across the state convened for a summit on how best to mobilize volunteers to assist Maryland's youth.

Taking a cue from April's national summit on voluntarism in Philadelphia, yesterday's event -- billed as "Maryland's Promise" -- brought together a coalition from government, nonprofit organizations and private companies. Their goal is to improve the lives of an estimated 38,000 Maryland children considered "at risk" because they live with poverty, poor health care and neglect.

"We need to learn how to make good use of volunteers," said Sally Michel of Baltimore, a longtime volunteer who recruits college students to teach reading to third- and fourth-graders graders at city summer camps.

"I'm amazed at how many young people become involved because they're concerned about their communities."

Summit organizers said they hoped participants would learn new ways to tap volunteer resources. About half of all adults in Maryland volunteer, the equivalent of 80,000 full-time workers, according to a recent study.

The problem is that much of that energy is wasted when volunteer efforts are unfocused, and participants are untrained or poorly organized.

"People see what's happening elsewhere in the state and look for ideas," said Maggie O'Neill, executive director of the Governor's Office on Volunteerism. "People are learning to be effective."

In a workshop on mentoring, an audience member asked how to find student leaders who can reach out to troubled children. The suggestion from a Prince George's County school official: Look within the bathroom subculture as often as the classroom to find young people who have impact on their peers.

In another, representatives of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., T. Rowe Price and the Johns Hopkins University explained how they encouraged employees and retirees to volunteer.

"A lot of good ideas are represented here," said Dana Stein, executive director of Civic Works, a Baltimore program where young people are recruited to clean streets and fix up public areas.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the summit's co-chair, said she expected participants to return home with plans to reach out to youth in Baltimore and Maryland's 23 counties and to be able to measure the impact of their efforts.

"We're serious about our goals," said Townsend. "This isn't about fluff."

Scott, 16, and Cunningham, 20, found their lives were improved by volunteering. Scott took a megaphone in April to literally wake up her Northwest Baltimore neighbors to the needs of youth. Cunningham spent a summer landscaping, picking up trash and repainting her West Baltimore neighborhood.

"It was a powerful experience," recalled Scott, a volunteer with the city's Safe and Sound campaign to make streets safer for children. "People were surprised to see young people doing something positive. It showed them the community wasn't dead."

Little, 26, a senior at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, counsels middle school students as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Memories of her troubled youth in Phoenix, Ariz., caused her to get involved.

"It's energizing to see so many adults willing to work with kids," marveled Little.

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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