Day camp offers kids a lesson in service

Carroll youths help put together outfits for back-to-school

July 21, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Instead of the usual sports, crafts and toasted marshmallows, campers from Carroll County's Community Learning Center Summer Program sorted bundles of used clothing for a Westminster charity last week.

A dozen youths decided which of the thousands of donated items would best suit next month's back-to-school program at Shepherd's Staff, a Christian outreach center.

As it has done for the past six years, the charity will give away new shoes, school supplies and backpacks to more than 600 needy children, who have a standing invitation to shop at the used-clothing center.

Campers sized clothing, paired socks, shoes and an occasional pair of boots. They helped set up sections for boys and for girls. They coordinated colors and created several outfits. Some campers added to the donations.

"I brought really cool clothes that just don't fit me anymore," said 11-year-old April Chapman of Sykesville. "They are all things I would normally wear."

April and other campers are participating in a four-week camp that runs through Friday. The Community Learning Center Summer Program is an extension of the county's after-school program. The day camp weaves time for community service into classes such as martial arts, balloon art and word games.

Bags of work

Kathy Brown, the charity's director, knew how daunting the task would be. Every morning, she finds several bulging bags of donated clothing on the center's doorstep. If not for volunteers, she could not handle the volume.

"All these bags must mean that people really care about this community," April said.

The campers found a spot in the clothing shed for most donations. The 40-foot-long structure is brimming with school attire for children in kindergarten through high school.

"I found great jeans and shirts and stuff from Old Navy," said 12-year-old Amanda Bircher of Westminster.

Sharon Welch, a teacher at the camp that meets at West Middle School, reminded her charges that "we are not here to shop. We are here to help others."

Thanks for efforts

Brown offered each camper a choice of two items from among the donations as a thank-you for their efforts. April chose a purse and a floppy straw hat, while Amanda, looking ahead to winter, opted for a ski vest.

William Shaub, 13, matched a sporty Nike shirt with shorts, a set that would be perfect for a little kid, he said. Michelle Mitchell, 13, of Westminster, raced across the yard when she spotted a black shopping bag marked "The Limited," a shop popular with the teen set.

"I know I can put outfits together for kids from this stuff," she said. She soon found "lots of go-togethers" any girl would love to wear, she said.

But, who would want the open-toed, flaming-red spike heels, she asked.

The shoes landed in the adult business clothing pile.

`School-appropriate'

Welch quickly rejected an outfit that started with a purple halter-top, reminding the group of the "school-appropriate" rule. The youths said they are more aware of the pressure to dress for style than by the rules.

"I get everything ready the night before or else I would miss my bus in the morning," said Michaela Gardler, 14, of Westminster.

The group that sorted clothes last week had been visiting with senior citizens the week before. William said he had more fun with the older generation than he did with old clothes.

"I talked to the elderly a lot and we played bingo," he said. "We had a '60s day and everybody dressed up like hippies."

Boyce, who is considering a teaching career while studying at Wells College in New York, said the children are enthusiastic. "They know Shepherd's Staff helps people who are homeless or in need," Boyce said. "Helping makes these kids aware of what is going on and helps them empathize."

Help needed daily

When the campers left to return to the school, Brown surveyed the neatly folded rows of clothing.

"I need these guys every day," she said. "They stayed focused on their task, created outfits and had fun. They really helped others with a lot of enthusiasm."

The Back-to-School Program opens Aug. 12 at Shepherd's Staff, 30 Carroll St. Appointments are requested. Information: 410-857-5944.

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