Teen rides to the rescue

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina has spurred a local girl to action

September 18, 2005|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,SUN STAFF

On Sept. 7, Jessica Curry confronted her mother in the kitchen of their house in Crofton.

She wanted to talk.

She wanted to talk about Hurricane Katrina and figure out what she could do to help.

And Sandy Curry suggested that her 17-year-old daughter raise money for relief efforts by sharing with others the passion she has held since childhood.

Today at the Equilibrium Horse Center in Gambrills, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Jessica Curry will learn just how much fruit her week-and-a-half of organizational and publicity efforts will bear. With the help of the 80-acre facility's director, she is sponsoring pony rides for charity, with a recommended donation of $5 a ride, all of which will go to the Red Cross to support its recovery work in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

"We're hoping to raise $5,000 to $8,000," Jessica says. "I don't know. You just need to help people when they, like, need help."

About 25 of the nearly 50 horses stabled at the horse center will be made available for rides, says Kathleen Harjess, Equilibrium's director. The event will also include a bake sale with goods prepared and donated by Jessica's friends and neighbors. A few of her artistic friends will offer face painting for children.

Today's event is part of a pattern of service and charitable interests that have engaged Jessica.

Jessica, a show rider for five years, has worked for the past two summers at the center's Equilibrium Horse Camp, a day program for riders age 5 to 16. From that experience, Harjess knew that Jessica was a reliable and mature teenager who could take on an effort such as this with competence and stamina.

"I'm so thrilled," Harjess says. "I've kind of let her run this. I knew that she would know how to handle it."

Moreover, she has been impressed by her student's selflessness and spirit.

"The United States - the strength of this country is going to be on its young people growing up, realizing that they're in a village, they're in a community, and that if they don't take care of their neighbor, this country is not going to survive, the great nation that we have," she says.

Jessica, a senior at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, says she discussed the hurricane and its aftermath in a government class taught by Catherine Klase. She watched events unfold every evening on Fox News.

"It's been the worst thing to hit America, in my lifetime, at least," she says. "And I think pretty much in forever."

When Jessica realized that something needed to be done about Katrina, she didn't wait. On Sept. 8, Spalding launched a canned food drive with a goal of collecting 4,000 items. Ascertaining that the school was falling short of its goal - leveling off at about 3,150 - she went through the cafeteria with a few friends, soliciting lunch-money donations from students and teachers.

"We got about $400 in 10 minutes," she says.

She went with her friends immediately to Wal-Mart and bought the 850 canned goods necessary to meet the school's goal and earn her classmates a dress-down day.

Ultimately, today's fundraising endeavor took root in a conversation between a mother and a daughter in a kitchen.

"She felt that she had so much and wanted to do something to help," Sandy Curry says. "Kathy [Harjess] thought it was a wonderful idea, too, and just told her to go with it."

Curry says that her daughter's current activism is not without precedent.

"Over the past year, she's started talking more [about volunteer work]," she says.

Jessica had at one point proposed joining the Peace Corps before starting college, upending the sequence followed by many young adults.

"We're trying to get her to go to college first," Curry says.

Jessica has come around to her mother's thinking, it seems. "I've abandoned that idea, because [the Peace Corps] kind of want people that have gone to college," she says.

She says she hopes to major in business at Sweet Briar College in Virginia; the University of Maryland, College Park; or Ohio State University, with a minor in equine management.

"I want to move down to Florida where there's a big show circuit and own my own horse farm," she says.

In many respects, Jessica seems like the typical high school senior.

She wears dangling hoop earrings with a 2-inch diameter. She keeps a silver cell phone speckled with pink and red hearts clipped to her jeans, and its ring tone is the first few bars of "Beauty and the Beast." Her favorite summer movies were Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. She watches The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy and The O.C., and prefers Seth Cohen to Ryan Atwood ("all the way," she says).

But there's something else about her as well, something that even her peers have picked up on.

"She's a caring person," says Jennifer Nowicki, 18, a friend from riding who has helped Jessica with publicity.

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