Family and friends honor teen's life by serving others

January 08, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

Tara Howard served meals to Baltimore's homeless every third Sunday, founded a "social justice" club during her senior year at Mount de Sales Academy, and at the age of 8 or 9, asked Santa for "Peace in the World! PLEASE!!" in a letter to the North Pole.

Yesterday afternoon, on the weekend of the first anniversary of her death at age 18, when a tractor-trailer struck a friend's car at a dark traffic light, her mother carried on that spirit of service. Linda Howard recruited her daughter's friends, who then enlisted other friends, to provide a hot meal to more than 250 needy people in the basement of Baltimore's St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.

"Every time I would run into her, Tara would say, `Where have you been? I haven't seen you volunteering. I haven't seen you at youth group,'" said Alice Miller, 19, who attended youth group at the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City with her. "The youth group did a lot, but she always took it into her own hands. We'd be on a retreat, and she'd always be organizing. She'd be up at 4 a.m., cutting paper stars for Mass in the morning."

Tara Howard clearly got her knack for planning and detail from her mother.

Linda Howard, who lives in Eldersburg, clad most of the more than 60 volunteers yesterday in matching red polo shirts embroidered with "Team Tara" - the "Tara" stitched in the style of her daughter's signature. She also made laminated pins with Tara's photo and the phrase "Loving Heart and Helping Hands Team Tara" for everyone to wear.

She advertised the event by passing out fliers to homeless people near St. Vincent de Paul on Christmas and New Year's eves.

As people lined up outside the church's iron side gate just before 1 p.m. yesterday, Tara's father, Bill Howard, handed them "Tara tickets" for admission to the basement.

The tickets, which were numbered so Linda Howard could keep a head count, featured Tara's senior picture and the words "God Bless You and enjoy your meal" in red.

Downstairs, there were extra sandwiches, gooey brownies and winter provisions - gloves, hats and scarves - for guests to take with them. The meals - steaming baked potatoes, green beans, meatloaf and rolls - were served in Styrofoam boxes. The lid to each box featured a half-sheet of paper with Tara's photo and story.

Theresa "Tara" Howard was riding in a friend's Volvo on Jan. 6, 2006, when a tractor-trailer coming off of Interstate 95 in Howard County struck the car at an intersection where the traffic light had lost power. Police, who had been at the scene earlier, had not left a flare or other warning device behind.

Howard, who was home on break from Marymount University, and Scott E. Caplan, 19, of Columbia died in the accident. The driver of the Volvo, Meghan E. St. Martin, 18, Howard's friend and Mount de Sales classmate, survived, as did the driver of the tractor-trailer.

"I wanted to celebrate her life and the person she was - her dad says `is,'" said Linda Howard, who hopes to make the meal an annual event. "This was the best way I could think of. I've never done anything like this."

Amanda Biagotti, 20, a student at the University of Maryland and a classmate of Tara's at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, said she read about yesterday's volunteer opportunity on Facebook, a social networking Web site.

Others who volunteered included Tara's kindergarten teacher, her boyfriend, her boyfriend's mother, three girls who all said that they were "Tara's best friend," her uncle, her aunt, her brother, youth group members, family friends and friends' parents.

"A lot of people got involved in the social justice club just because they liked Tara and Tara asked them to," Biagotti said.

Erica George and Genna Wittstadt, who graduated with Tara from Mount de Sales in 2005, both said that she had touched more people in her 18 years than they hoped to in a lifetime.

"I'm aiming to get anywhere close," said George, who attends Mount St. Mary's University. "If I get asked to volunteer for something, I can't turn it down. I think of Tara, about how she would do it."

"Tara would miss her own birthday party for it," said Wittstadt, finishing her friend's thought.

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