Board of Child Care volunteers fill Easter baskets for youths with troubled backgrounds

Volunteers work to provide holiday gifts for youths at two shelters

April 03, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

The scent of chocolate wafted through the welcome center at the Board of Child Care as volunteers opened large cartons of candy bars, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and sugary sculptures. "Free samples," one announced, as more helpers filed into the building on the Randallstown campus. But at that hour of the morning, most preferred a steaming cup of coffee.

With assembly-line precision, the seasoned workers arranged pink, green or yellow grass in quart-size white pails and added multicolored plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, marshmallow treats, a few healthful snacks and a box with a chocolate rabbit that says "Somebunny loves you."

Preparing 200 Easter baskets is just one way the volunteers help the Board of Child Care, a 135-year-old nonprofit that shelters 100 youths from troubled backgrounds at its Randallstown center and dozens more in a similar facility in West Virginia.

The auxiliary, made up of mostly older volunteers from area Methodist congregations, also provides birthday cards and parties, trips to Orioles games or rodeos, and celebrations around the holidays. An Easter egg hunt today, an activity usually reserved for the younger set, promises to draw a crowd of adolescents.

"They are teens, but still kids who have missed much," said Thomas L. Curcio, president of the organization operated by the Baltimore- Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. "Here is where they can celebrate those traditions with people who care about them."

Curcio likens the volunteers to doting grandparents.

"Our auxiliary enhances the care here and makes sure these youngsters get the extras," he said. "Gifts, birthday cards, Easter baskets all go beyond state funding for basic needs. The auxiliary helps us accomplish normalcy, and without their contributions, we would have great difficulty doing that."

At Thanksgiving, the youths, who may leave the campus to visit relatives, get a basket of holiday foods. At Christmas, volunteers invite children to a store stocked with donated items. Funds raised by the auxiliary have furnished the center with televisions, computer games and DVDs.

High school graduation means a check from the auxiliary and a handmade quilt.

"The quilt is a symbol that we are family," said Dale Griffin, the board's volunteer liaison. "We want them to stay wrapped in our warmth for all their lives."

Most children are referred by the state, which funds the basics. But Curcio says the efforts of the volunteers add significantly to their lives. The auxiliary, established in 1953, won national recognition last month with the 2010 Group Volunteers Award from the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries.

About 100 children ages 12 to 21, most of them referred by the Department of Social Services, live in the five cottages on the 40-acre campus. About 60 percent come to the shelter from Baltimore County; others come from the city or state.

Nearly 70 percent of the residents are boys. Most attend public schools in the area, but some with behavioral problems stay on campus for classes.

Older residents attend community colleges or pursue vocational training.

For youngsters whose earliest recollections are of dysfunctional families or foster homes and unmarked holidays, Curcio said, the simple gift of a candy-filled bucket can create a cherished memory.

"Many of our youngsters don't experience normal childhoods, and they look at holidays as something they have missed," he said. "For them, the holidays that we take for granted never happened. Sometimes, their first real Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving is here."

The entire 200-basket production took about 90 minutes until all the dining hall tables were set with Easter buckets, the volunteers' version of the traditional gift and a more practical present for the teens who will receive them, they said.

"We put nice-quality candy and we add crackers, so it's not all sweets," said Elizabeth Housten, a West Friendship resident who has volunteered for nearly three decades at the center. "Helping kids makes a difference and tells them someone cares. We are changing lives."

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