The happiest helper Bright Lights

Amber Coffman: Glen Burnie teen-ager has spent nearly half her life helping the homeless.

March 07, 1998

THIS ISN'T the first recognition of Amber Coffman, nor will it be the last.

Among the earliest was a community item in The Sun six years ago: "The Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firemen's Association invites everyone to the annual Miss Fire Prevention and Junior Miss Fire Prevention contest at the Riviera Beach Fire Hall on Fort Smallwood Road." Among the junior contestants listed was "Amber Coffman from Linthicum." She was 10.

That year, Amber researched a school project on Mother Teresa. Her report, and a visit to the Sarah's House shelter for women and children near Fort Meade, inspired her to organize Happy Helpers for the Homeless. She and friends put together bologna-and-cheese sandwiches and, with her mom's help, distributed them on weekends to homeless folks near Baltimore's City Hall.

In the six years since, she has handed out more than 150,000 sandwiches, toiletries and Christmas presents to the needy in the city and northern Anne Arundel, where she lives. Her determination has been awesome.

The vast poverty is what drives her, she says. She never forgets the time a cake flipped upside down onto the ground and a hungry man happily ate it anyway. She is glad that other kids' taunts of her as a "goody-goody" have vanished as her commitment has gained acclaim.

She just won a $20,000 scholarship from Seventeen magazine. President Clinton presented her with a medal last spring at the volunteer summit in Philadelphia.

Amber attends the private Severn School, but she embodies the values that the State Board of Education sought to promote when it made Maryland the first state to require community service for high school graduation.

The former junior fire prevention queen hasn't lost her zeal for pageants, either. She was crowned Miss Maryland Teen USA last fall and will vie for Miss Teen USA in August. If her public service has made her a more compelling contestant, so be it. Six years of handing out sandwiches for the hungry, even during blizzards and on her birthdays, is undeniably a great deed. She spends up to 10 hours a weekend doing this.

A cynic would ask, "What's in it for her?" The better question is, "What's inside her?" If we find out, someone should bottle it and sprinkle it all about. Amber Coffman's world can't have too many "happy helpers."

Bright Lights spotlights people who make a real difference in the quality of life of the Baltimore area. It appears periodically in these columns of the editorial page.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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