Volunteer wins reward trip Boys and Girls Clubs send Baltimore baseball lover to All-Star Game in Denver

July 06, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Lillian Easley had so many brothers and sisters growing up in rural Virginia that there were enough kin to field two baseball teams, an umpire, a scorekeeper and someone to chase foul balls.

The 11th of 21 children, Lil played center field.

"My father was the pitcher, and my mother kept score," Easley said of her Depression-era childhood on a farm 70 miles southwest of Richmond. "We'd have an early dinner and go out and play ball until it got dark."

This week, the 65-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident will play ball in Colorado during Major League Baseball's All-Star break. A full-time volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club in the Claremont Homes public housing complex where she lives, "Miss Lil" is one of 30 club volunteers nationwide being rewarded for their deeds with an expense-paid trip to Denver for tomorrow's All-Star Game.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America -- with about 2,000 chapters in the United States and Canada -- is one of several charities supported by MasterCard, which is paying for the holiday.

Game of catch

Part of the fun will be participating in a stunt being billed as "the world's largest game of catch," when Easley and hundreds of others will line up along the streets of Denver to toss a ball from one end of town to the other.

The trip, including an on-field introduction before the game and Easley's first airplane ride, honors her six years of work with the impoverished children of Claremont.

Her investment -- overseeing breakfast and lunch for more than 200 children a day, running games, giving hugs, helping children learn to spell their names -- is estimated to be about 3,000 hours a year.

"Some of their parents don't pay close attention to them," said the widowed great-grandmother, who worked as a cook for 18 years at the old Read's drugstore in Towson. "A whole lot of them can't read, and some of them think no one cares, but we love 'em."

'Deserves every bit of it'

Easley was nominated for the honor by Anna Warren, who directs the Claremont Boys and Girls Club. The club helped fill the void left when Baltimore closed its recreation center there a few years ago.

"Leaders get the pats on the back, but they couldn't be leaders without people like Lil," said Warren, who wrote the nominating essay that brought Easley to MasterCard's attention. "We don't have many volunteers. I was praying they'd pick her, she deserves every bit of it."

The Claremont Boys and Girls Club -- one of three clubs in city public housing projects -- is somewhat bleak. There's really not much more than a pair of worn playrooms with old books and games, a pool table, a pingpong table, a record player and a television for watching movies when its too hot to go outside. Periods are set aside for math and reading.

There are promises from Boys and Girls Club officials to improve the club, especially with tutoring programs run by full-time educators. Claremont is run by three part-timers and Easley.

"We're trying to improve the clubs one at a time," said Frank Williams, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland.

"We also run clubs at Flag House and [the new] Pleasant View community. Claremont has the greatest need, but the resources aren't there to upgrade it yet," he said. Williams said the nonprofit group will operate this year on about $500,000. That budget, he said, helps serve about 5,000 children.

Even if Claremont doesn't get what it needs to be more than a day-care center, Miss Lil will be there, usually by 7 a.m. She tends to stay past 4 p.m.

"It makes me feel good," she said recently as paper airplanes flew around her head. "Without this club, they'd just be out there in the street getting into everything. They tell me they love me and I say, 'I love you too.' "

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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