Girl gymnasts open hearts, raise $5,250 for Red Cross

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

September 23, 2001|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

YOU COULD say all those girls washing cars last weekend on the parking lot of the Sunny's store at U.S. 40 and Chatham Drive in Ellicott City were emblematic of America trying to regain normality.

But you'd be only partly correct, even though the outdoorsy merchant's managers are respected for routinely helping Howard County youth groups help themselves with fund raising.

Those 40 or so girls from Columbia Gymnastics and their patrons made more difference in the effort to address the hell of New York and the Pentagon and western Pennsylvania than most would think possible.

Namely, at practice Monday night, they handed a Red Cross representative a check for $5,250.

It was more than triple what club leaders had been hoping to generate last weekend to help pay for competitive trips in gymnastics and cheerleading to Orlando, Fla., and Tucson, Ariz.

But the girls kept not a penny.

"It's amazing and thrilling for us," said Columbia's Donna Dorsey, who accepted the check. She is executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing, a director of the Central Maryland Red Cross chapter and chairman of the charity's Howard County division. "That's a lot of money, particularly from a carwash, and for them to choose to give all the money they had intended to keep for their own activities to us, instead - it's outstanding."

Dorsey said she didn't know how the amount would rank among donations locally, although it's obviously significant. Most children and groups of children who give at all, she said, donate small amounts from activities such as lemonade stands.

Columbia Gymnastics' timing was accidental. The organization booked the store parking lot for its fund-raiser a year ago, and the weekend's logistics were firmed up in August.

But the results were exquisite, thanks, of course, to many hundreds of Ellicott City travelers between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. last Saturday and Sunday who had vehicles washed - or left them dirty but still made donations, sometimes hanging a U-turn in busy traffic to do so.

Hand-drawn signs on poster board got the message to motorists - this carwash was to benefit the Red Cross.

Instead of the usual buck or two, said Columbia Gymnastics owner Kristin Anderson, "people were pulling out $10 and $20 bills and handing them to us - it was amazing." Many waiting for traffic signals to change dropped money into buckets, even onto the nearby median strips for the girls to pick up.

A few donors were cautious, asking the group's name and quizzing leaders briefly before donating. But donate, they did, with cash and by check. Customers of a fast-food stop on another corner walked over to contribute. A nearby Domino's pizza shop made the girls lunch.

"On Sunday alone, the girls counted and packaged 996 dollar bills," said Sykesville's Colette Miller, the club parents group's fund-raising chairman. They also rolled $196 in coins - many people emptied their pockets.

After the terrorists made their unspeakable attacks, club leaders decided to go on with the fund-raiser but gave the girls a choice: keep the money for the planned trips or use some of it to help others. Anderson said they voted to give it all to the Red Cross.

"We want to teach our kids what's the right thing to do," said Debra DelGaudio, president of Columbia Gymnastics' parents group and a carwash co-organizer, "but they seemed to know on this one."

The kids didn't know something about DelGaudio, though, because she purposely didn't mention it to them.

"They have enough to think about," she said.

But their enthusiasm and work - some enlisted friends to help - was special to experience, she said. She's a New Yorker who moved to Ellicott City four years. Her family is particularly close, she said, to four firefighters from Ronkonkoma, Long Island.

All four give time at the Lakeland Volunteer Fire Company back home when they're not on duty full-time in New York City.

None has been heard from since Sept. 11.

Have suggestions for people or things we can write about? Call the writer at 420-332-6525 or address e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.

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