Service camp lets teen-agers try voluntarism

Kids spend morning working at charities, then become counselors

June 25, 2000|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Kaitlyn Barrett likes working with people, not with sweat socks.

The Westminster High School sophomore did a little of both at the Service Learning Camp, begun this year by the Westminster Department of Recreation. The camp gives 13- to 15-year-olds the chance to find out what kind of volunteer opportunities are available with nonprofit groups and then allows them to work as counselors-in-training.

"We have both elements -- leadership in the afternoon, service in the morning," said Craig Giles, service learning coordinator at North Carroll Middle School and one of the camp leaders.

On Friday, a nine-member group sorted donated clothes and prepared bundles of pencils for school kits at Shepherd's Staff, an area church agency. Then they returned to Longwell Armory, where they worked with children enrolled in other summer programs.

Maryland students are required to complete 75 "service learning hours" to graduate from high school. But often the kids "don't quite have the confidence to go out and call" an agency to ask how they can help, said Estelle Sanzenbacher, coordinator of student services for Carroll County public schools.

That's where the camp helps. Each morning, the campers visit a different organization, learn about the group's goals and take a tour of the facilities. Then, they pitch in wherever they're needed -- like stacking cans at Carroll County Food Sunday, a neighborhood food bank.

Sanzenbacher approached the Westminster Department of Recreation about the camp after seeing a similar program in Frederick County. Carroll students earn community service learning hours for their effort.

The campers reflect on their experiences afterward.

"They get a chance to say what they're surprised by, and what they've learned," Sanzenbacher said.

At West End Place, "we thought we were going to play bingo," said Matt Zapf, 13. Instead, they spent the morning making flower arrangements with senior citizens.

The kids have developed a preference for interacting with others when it comes to volunteer work.

"There's that glorified part of service when you're with people, and the behind-the-scenes work that helps people indirectly," Giles said.

They liked seeing the fruits of their labor. "When you carry people's groceries to their cars, you can see how much it means to them," Kaitlyn said.

The camp will hold another session next week. Many campers will continue, and then for the remainder of the summer, work as counselors-in-training.

"I know it's manual labor, but the time went so fast," said Dan Capece, 13.

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