Voluntarism thrives in a Frostburg dorm

HallSTARS!: A program at the college offers students $1,600 scholarships for completing 450 hours of community service and training.

May 19, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG -- If a child needs tutoring, a bird's wing mending, a day care center tending, a hospital's walls brightening, or if other such good deeds need doing in this Western Maryland community, people know whom to call: the students in Allen Hall.

An otherwise unimpressive three-story brick building on the campus of Frostburg State University, Allen Hall is gaining a national reputation as what might be called a full-service dormitory.

It is the home of the Allen HallSTARS!, an innovative program that combines the growing interest in social service among college students with academic programs and residential life.

The 80 freshmen who entered the hall last fall were expected to complete 360 hours of community service and 90 hours of training and seminars during the school year. In return, they get $1,600 toward next year's living expenses at the school.

They also get an experience that will help them through that crucial freshman year.

"We wanted to create the opportunity for students to live, learn and serve together," says Bill Mandicott, director of campus activities. "We saw this not just as a service program, but as an educational and retention program."

Most of the funding comes from AmeriCorps, a federal program analogous to a domestic Peace Corps, that provided $10,000 for administrative costs and $1,181 for each scholarship. The school puts up the other $419.

"It's an amazing program, and, as far as I know, unique," says Hank Oltmann, director of AmeriCorps' educational awards program.

Frostburg State officials say colleges across the country have sought details about the Hall- STARS! Many schools have community service efforts, and many tie them into academics with service learning programs, but Frostburg might be the first to add the residential element.

"That dormitory is an amazing environment that provides a real visible presence on campus of the importance of community service," Oltmann says.

Students were recruited for the program at orientation sessions at the school before the fall semester began. School officials canvassed community organizations that were looking for volunteers and chose 10 sites where the students could work, including elementary and middle schools, after-school programs and nursing homes.

Students could paint murals at a mental hospital or take care of birds at the aviary at Rocky Gap State Park. Students could also bring in their own ideas. One volunteered to help the marching band at his former high school.

Other work -- from community cleanups to Special Olympics officiating -- was scheduled for weekends. School breaks brought trips to other parts of the state, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Participants' hours are recorded on time sheets posted in the dormitory.

The HallSTARS! also take a required freshman composition course together.

"What makes the program so good for a teacher of writing is that the students have experience to bring to every assignment," says Rochelle Smith, an English faculty member who taught one of those sections.

She finds the papers from HallSTARS! members more substantive than those from students in her other freshman writing classes.

The residential aspect of the program attracted Rosa Smith of Baltimore.

"I thought a group of students who wanted to do community service would be different from other types of students," says Smith, who spent most of her service hours tutoring at an elementary school in Garrett County.

Gary Larrick, who spent his service hours helping the band at his Cumberland high school, said it made for a tight-knit community.

"You would go through the halls saying, `Let's play volleyball,' and there would be 12 people out there," Larrick says. "When we had a writing assignment due, we'd all be up all night talking about ideas together."

The program started with 80 freshman but is down to 60. Most of the dropouts were unable to keep up their service hours. Divisions in the program remain between those dedicated to the service principle and those in it for other reasons.

"I think some people just wanted the money," says Raina Mahoney, a freshman from Prince George's County. "That's not what this was all about."

"You just have to do the math," agrees Donnell Atherley, pointing out that a student would do better with a minimum-wage job than putting in 450 hours for the $1,600 scholarship.

Atherley spends three afternoons a week at a Salvation Army center in Cumberland, helping in an after-school program for about 35 youngsters. Sometimes that means playing basketball with the kids. Other times it means helping with homework. Always it means being a mentor and role model.

"This program has been a godsend," says Salvation Army Maj. Harvey Adams, who has Hall- STARS! helpers three times a week. "They've really turned around some of the kids here."

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