Carroll mayor's youthful summer Middle school students join Taneytown official for landscaping work

August 07, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

How is the mayor of Taneytown spending his summer vacation?

Three days a week, W. Robert Flickinger accompanies eight student volunteers to the city's four parks, where they spend hours under a relentless sun, shoveling mulch around trees and spreading sawdust under playground equipment.

The project has saved the city thousands of dollars in maintenance and tree-replacement costs. Flickinger's middle school volunteers have mulched more than 200 trees, spread five dump-truck loads of sawdust, picked up trash and swept parking lots over the past three weeks.

"I'd venture to say it would have cost $10,000" if Taneytown had hired workers and bought materials, said Flickinger, who uses his truck and flatbed trailer for hauling mulch, because the city doesn't own a trailer.

Mulch for the project is free from the city mulch pile, a recycling area where residents can bring grass clippings and yard waste and take mulch. A local stair manufacturer donated sawdust, which city workers hauled to playground areas.

The mayor started the project by placing a notice in Taneytown's municipal newsletter. Only boys have volunteered, though girls are welcome. Volunteers can choose to work three or six hours a day and earn community service hours toward the 75-hour Maryland high school graduation requirement.

Projects like Flickinger's are under way in towns across the United States, said Chip Brown, spokesman for the National Conference of Mayors.

"Mayors quite frequently do community service with children," he said.

In Easton, for example, Mayor B. Eugene Butler has coached Little League baseball and youth football. He also grabs a pair of gloves and a rake to join families for the annual East End and West End cleanup days.

The Taneytown project attracts about eight volunteers each shift.

Pride in the students' accomplishments echoes in Flickinger's voice as he stands in Memorial Park, pointing to a line of recently mulched trees at the western edge of the park along Route 140.

"These boys unloaded seven loads of mulch yesterday." said Flickinger, 65, who is retired from a 26-year career at Random House Inc. in Westminster. "We've had good compliments on this, how it looks nice."

Asked what benefits he gets from the project, which ends next week, Flickinger said: "The beauty of the park and seeing the boys getting their community service hours in."

For their part, the Taneytown volunteers said they enjoyed everything about the job -- from the man in charge to the opportunity to work with friends. They haven't minded the heat because when their work is done, enough of the afternoon is left to grab swim trunks and jump into the community pool.

"I think it's a great idea because we get involved," said Adam Leathers, 13, an eighth-grader at Northwest Middle School, while spreading sawdust at a playground at Memorial Park. "Like today, a lot of people are probably going to benefit from what we're doing here."

Brad Whitcomb, 11, a sixth-grader at Northwest Middle, said community service "teaches kids that not everything deals with money."

"You're trying to help people out by doing certain things," he said.

Ben Hammerbacher, 14, who will be a freshman at Francis Scott Key High School, is planning ahead.

If he can get his community service hours completed before high school, Ben said, he'll have more time to do other things, such as practicing on his electric and acoustic guitars.

When he's not supervising, the mayor joins in by shoveling and spreading mulch.

Self-taught, Flickinger said he has "been piddling around with [landscaping] for years. I love to work with it."

Fairy Flickinger said her husband, who has a son and daughter and three grandsons, has always liked working with youngsters.

Meanwhile, "honey-do" chores are accumulating at the Flickinger household, but the mayor's wife is philosophical.

If he wasn't working with the students, he would be doing some other community project, she said.

"I just said to him last night, 'When are you helping me clean the garage?' and he laughed."

Pub Date: 8/07/98

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