O'Farrell boys aid Katrina victims

Residents of center in Marriottsville donate their wages to Red Cross


Residents at the Thomas O'Farrell Youth Center in Marriottsville have turned chores into dollars for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

About a dozen of the students, who are placed in the residential program by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, volunteered for odd jobs at the center and in the community, then donated their pay to the Red Cross.

The images on television and in newspapers convinced Manuel, 15, of Hagerstown that "people really needed help.

"A lot of people in this disaster lost their homes and everything else," Manuel said. "I had to step up and contribute. I worked in the kitchen and did some maintenance, and gave my wages to them."

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"It is just a way to show people I care what happened to them," said Rob, 16, of Suitland. "Besides, the work gives me something to do with my time."

Franklin, 15, of Easton, cooked, mowed grass and cleaned.

"People in New Orleans need everything a lot more than I do," Franklin said. "If it were me, I would want somebody to support me. I really don't like the breakfast shift, but to help Katrina people, I did it. Half the guys here helped."

For Dywon, 16, of Baltimore, kitchen duty wasn't onerous. He likes to cook, and eggs are his specialty, he said.

"This was not hard, and I would sure do it again," said Dywon, who earned the "school pride" certificate in a ceremony last week. "I hope somebody would help my family if something this bad happened to them."

Desmond, 17, of Washington looked at yardwork and kitchen duty as a way to help.

"You've got to give back, and this was the only way I could," he said.

The crisis became personal for 16-year-old Mario, whose pregnant sister lived in New Orleans when the storm struck. It took his family several weeks to reconnect with his sister, who had moved to Texas.

"It hit me in my heart," said Mario, who is in the transitional-living phase of the O'Farrell program and is working at McDonald's in Eldersburg. "I donated my salary, as much as I could."

On behalf of the donors, the center gave the Red Cross a $450 check at an awards assembly last week. John Yates, the center's director, gave the students certificates noting their contributions.

"We want to help kids here understand that it is the season of giving," Yates said. "We are celebrating that giving and recognizing their efforts."

The students, wearing long-sleeved shirts and dapper ties, cheered as their schoolmates accepted certificates.

"These kids are all polite, respectful gentlemen," said Ann F. Pollack, a member of the center's advisory board. "That is all a sign of the good things happening here."

Yates introduced students' family members among the audience of nearly 50 center residents, staff members and guests.

"We want people to come here to see these kids and to know they are our future," Yates said.

Franklin's mother and younger sister, who had driven from Easton for the ceremony, were among those applauding the students' achievements.

"I am not surprised my son helped out like this," said Kim Almeida-Fletcher. "He thinks about other people all the time."

The O'Farrell program is helping her son overcome his problems, she said.

"He is learning to be positive," she said. "There is a lot of good stuff happening here."

Also in the audience were the daughter and granddaughter of the center's namesake, state Sen. Thomas O'Farrell, who represented Carroll County in the legislature for more than 40 years ago. The center, operated by the North American Family Institute, a nonprofit, human-services agency, opened in 1986.

"They named this center after my father because he always believed that everyone deserves a second chance," said Pat O'Farrell Friese. "I never heard much about third chances, but always second ones.

"He would want us to be here tonight, representing our family," she said. "He helped out a lot of people in his lifetime, and he would be pleased that people are helping these boys."

Students know Pollack, Friese's daughter, as the cake lady. One day a month, Pollack brings five cakes to the center to mark that month's student birthdays.

"The idea is to let these kids know there are people out there who care about them and want them to succeed," Pollack said.

Pat Machate, clinical director at the center and a Red Cross volunteer, thanked the students for their efforts.

"I know you all have a lot going on in your personal lives, and that makes it hard to think of others," she said. "I am proud of you all."


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