For students of Leadership U, a course in doing good deeds


A portable basketball hoop that can be modified for wheelchair players stands on the parking lot of St. Matthew House, an apartment home for adults with physical disabilities.

In addition, a shiny, white railing encloses newly planted shrubs, a fountain and a patio set.

The amenities at the facility, next to Kings Contrivance Village Center, were constructed by Leadership U, a four-month leadership development and community service program sponsored by Howard County Leadership for high school juniors. Six of the 34 group members participated in the St. Matthew House project, calling themselves People Providing for the Pursuit of Happiness.

On Saturday, the teens added the finishing touches to the fountain and swept the fallen leaves from the stone patio. Other members finished assembling the basketball set that is slightly lower than the standard height.

The outside appointments were not all the teens had in their bag of surprises for the residents. An aroma was coming from the kitchen as the group hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

"They did a lot of stuff, and the residents were genuinely appreciative of all their work," said the Rev. Raymond Velencia, rector of Columbia's Orthodox Church of St. Matthew, the sponsoring parish for St. Matthew House. "They also enjoyed the meal, and they also enjoyed the company of the young people."

Nick Rossovskij, a 16-year-old at Hammond High School, heard about the disability residence and recommended the house to his group. The project coincided with the group's theme - human rights for the disabled.

After choosing St. Matthew House, the group had a number of ideas for the residents, who live independently in 15 apartments. However, the students' plans changed after a September meeting.

"We came in with a game plan and we had a list of different ideas of horseshoes or hibachi," said Sean Dalton, a 16-year-old Mount Saint Joseph student. "We came out with these ideas and the residents said, `We'd rather have a basketball hoop' and the ladies wanted a reading area and they jokingly said they wanted a fountain."

The group took the residents' wish list and scattered throughout the community, asking merchants for donations and holding bake sales that netted about $700.

Throughout the months, the teens occasionally returned to St. Matthew House to do yard work and other chores as they prepared space to plant shrubs.

"We came out here about two weeks ago and turned the water on for the first time and we were like, `Yes, this is awesome' and we got so pumped up that we could not help ourselves from cleaning up everything," Dalton said.

Group members cleaned the brick facade of the building and its railing, revealing what they said was a nice foundation to coincide with the black-and-green patio set.

"The white railings were green and it was like a caked-on mold, and we took our shirts and cleaned it up," Rossovskij said.

In addition to the donated funds, the group said an anonymous person donated the fountain.

Noor Oweis, a 16-year-old from Mount Hebron High School, said she enjoyed the opportunity to provide the residents what they wanted.

"It was like a big relief since we were working on this for months," she said. "And we finally pulled it off, and it was our interaction and chance to meet with them and tell them we did it for them."

Oweis said she likes to give back to the community and help others in her spare time, a trait she maintains from being a Girl Scout for more than 10 years.

"It was great to know that they love to be active and they want to be seen as people and not defined by their disabilities," she said.

The group said the residents' smiling faces Saturday evening signaled the program's success.

The teens' assignment concludes next month with an official graduation ceremony from Leadership U.

But some group members said their work at St. Matthew House is not complete.

"We'll come out in the spring and plant some flowers," Dalton said.

leadership groups

In addition to People Providing for the Pursuit of Happiness, Leadership U has five other groups serving the Howard County community:

Boredom Beaters reached out to children ages 10 to 12, encouraging them to seek other entertainment besides video games. The group hosted a workshop that encouraged the children to participate in visual, musical and performing arts.

The Dream Team helped youths with cancer by holding a basketball tournament among Howard County public schools to raise $1,000 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

Family Ties strengthened relationships between parents and teenagers by using the Internet and multimedia tools such as PowerPoint to teach parents ways to communicate with their teens.

Juniors 4 Seniors promoted interaction between senior citizens and teenagers by hosting a senior prom that united the two groups.

Kids Helping Kids collected video games and donated them to Howard County General Hospital for use by children in the pediatric and emergency units.

Information about Leadership U: 410-730-4474.

[Source: Leadership Howard County]

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