The Urge To Do Good
Throughout Chesapeake Country, It's Irrepressible
Once again this Thanksgiving season, we get to know volunteers, whose caring sustains the people, animals, culture and environment of Chesapeake Country
by Connie Darago
Editor's note: The Urge to Do Good was written as an overview of volunteering and its impact in Chesapeake Country. The vastness of the subject made for hard choices and short stories.
To tell the story, writer Darago chose organizations and people that won her heart. Many others would have made just as good a story. We hope to tell many of their achievements in the future.
Let us know what treasures we've missed.
A night of angry lightening and pelting rain has given way to a brilliant crisp morning. Awakened by the incessant hammering of a woodpecker, you conclude today is perfect for a fossil hunt. The kids clamor down the stairs as you announce your plans. They inhale their cereal and scurry away to find necessities for the excursion as you pack a simple lunch of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and box drinks.
In eagerness to find that big shark's tooth, a contest forms as you drive the picturesque south corridor of Rt. 2/4 and turn east onto H.B. Truman Highway. Reaching the park's entrance, you find a simple brown sign with crooked letters hung on the padlocked gates saying "state out of money, park out of luck, closed forever."
The silence of a shut park does not sound like the country silence, it's tense and confined
-Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart
Calvert Cliffs State Park - one of Chesapeake Bay's few remaining public access points for fossil hunters - would have been closed if volunteers had not stepped forward to save the unique 1,460-acre park nestled along the Cliffs of Calvert beside the Chesapeake Bay.
The small volunteer group known as The Friends of Calvert Cliffs State Park did it all, earning statewide recognition as pioneers. They opened the gates as they traveled to work and closed them at night when returning home. They transported personal mowers to cut grass after church on Sundays and on holidays, maintained the four pieces of ancient playground equipment and the 13 miles of primitive hiking trails, patrolled the beach, gave programs and took camping reservations for the park's youth group area.
The Friends replaced politics and red-tape with unencumbered knowledge and dedication. Today when you visit the park, you enjoy drinking water, a new comfort station, a one-acre, volunteer-built, recycled playground and a workshop complete with office space.
Dedicated volunteers like these are driven by a passion of enormous proportions to do whatever it takes to achieve the seemingly unattainable. Armed with a mission often near obsession, they forge ahead without thinking how much time or effort it will take to achieve their goal. Their passion draws others to their mission. On and on the volunteer web goes and grows
From the Bottom Up
photo courtesy of Cindy Avice Calvert's 'Unsung Hero' Buzz Oursler, far right, at SMILE's groundbreaking.
As at Calvert Cliffs State Park, volunteers and their organizations affect our daily lives by their journeys and achievements. A volunteer web silently weaves its way through our communities, forming first one group then another until each offshoot is strong and able to make a difference. Parks remain open; historic mansions endure; the elderly, needy, homeless and abused find food, clothing and shelter; communities enjoy new playgrounds; aspiring artists paint and dramatists act; animals are protected; children play sports and become Scouts - all thanks to the efforts of volunteers.
A common trait of volunteerism is the no-frills approach. Volunteers often find themselves relying totally upon their network, working miracles on borrowed time and in space borrowed from homes, businesses and tiny cubbyholes tucked away in churches and libraries. For them it's not the surroundings but the need to serve that's important. They are adaptable, talented people willing to do whatever it takes to further the cause.
Up until the turn of the century, nobody thought in terms of volunteerism. You were either neighborly, offering kindness and help to those living close by, or charitable, giving help to those less fortunate. The first Americans relied heavily on one another for their survival, helping each other build homes, barns, churches, schools and harvest crops.
Organized charity was imported to America from England in the mid-19th century. Today America is full of volunteers from all walks of life providing countless services to us regardless of age, sex, race or financial standing.
Volunteers from presidents to governors, park managers to secretaries, construction workers to senior citizens, housewives to youth come forward to give what they can.
Why do they volunteer?
Many volunteers seem almost driven to step forward. One of those is Nancy Shores of Anne Arundel Meals on Wheels, who admits "After 23 years it still brings a special challenge to my life." Another is Penny Rodeffer, Calvert County School Board secretary, who says, "I felt I just had to do it, so I did."
Others find personal rewards. Joan Kocen, civic landscape engineer for Calvert Garden Club, says, "It's nice to see someone smile when they look at your work. It's rewarding." Buzz Oursler, Calvert County community volunteer says, "It feels good to help these people who work so hard to help the community." Johanna Hunter, Association for Retarded Citizens of Anne Arundel County, agrees. "It's wonderful to see how everything happens."
Still others just say it's important. One of those is Mohan Grover, Shady Side grocer and unofficial mayor, who simply states "I want to help." Adds Dwight Williams, Calvert County park manager: "I've always felt it was important to give something back to the community."
From the Top Down
Volunteerism has grown like grass from the bottom up. But at the same time, national and state volunteerism has been supported at the highest levels.
As president, Jimmy Carter was deeply committed to social justice and human rights. Out of office, he became the most famous supporter for Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian-based ministry that forms partnerships with volunteers, churches, donors businesses and local governments to build decent and affordable housing for families in need. The families who receive new homes contribute sweat equity - 500 hours of time donated to various Habitat projects - as part of their purchase agreement.
Since 1976, Habitat has built over 70,000 simple decent houses in all 50 states and 60 countries. Among them are homes in Pasadena, Annapolis, Mayo and Sauders Point plus its first in Calvert County this year and its most recent in Lothian (see this week's Dock of the Bay).
"Habitat has successfully removed the stigma of charity by substituting it with a sense of partnership," Carter said. "The people who live in the homes work side by side with the volunteers so they feel very much they are at an equal level."
First Lady Rosalyn Carter joined as a volunteer. "I didn't think I could use a hammer and didn't want to," she said. "It took me 15 to 20 strokes for each nail, but by the end of the week, I could drive a nail with four or five strikes."
William Donald Schaefer, governor of Maryland from 1987 to 1995, asked volunteers for their help when money was short in the state. His Office on Volunteerism raised volunteering to the cabinet level. With the Governor's Award for Volunteerism, Schaefer also honored groups for services that would not have otherwise been available. In 1993, over 600 organizations statewide were nominated.
(In 1997 the Office of Volunteerism was placed under the office of the lieutenant governor and renamed the Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism.)
That year, Friends of Calvert Cliffs State Park won the environment award. With it came a bit of irony: Schaefer himself had signed the order to close the park only two years earlier. Now he's a lifetime member.
Also in Schaefer's administration, Volunteer Maryland was created in 1993. One of only seven demonstration projects of national service across the country funded by the Federal Commission on National and Community Service, the program recruits coordinators and associates who dedicate a year of paid public service to Volunteer Maryland. After training, coordinators move on to government and private non-profit agencies to strengthen their volunteer programs.
Current Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend are carrying on the tradition. Education, a passion of Glendening's, brings him as a volunteer to schools to read to children in classrooms.
For the past 13 years, Maryland's governors have also emceed a ceremony unique to Maryland and perhaps the nation. The Maryland You are Beautiful Program Awards has recognized thousands of unsung heroes from every county who make Maryland a better place to live, work and visit.
Carol Crane was a new resident to Calvert County in 1992 when she visited the Tri-County Animal Shelter. She was so appalled she went to the counties' four established humane organizations with her concerns. "She convinced them that Calvert County could do better and deserved its own shelter," says Mary Baldwin, League volunteer since 1993.
The Calvert Animal Welfare League was formed by unanimous agreement of the Calvert County Humane Society, Animals Best Friends, the Chesapeake SPCA and the Chesapeake Kennel Club. In 1995, the league purchased 2.7 acres in Prince Frederick to build the Calvert Animal Shelter and Education Center. While the league waits, they get free office space at Calvert Business Machine. "We provide advice, referrals to humane and breed rescue groups, offer spay and neuter certificates and counseling for behavior problems," says Baldwin.
"We have a good start," she says, "Artists have donated art work for us to sell, county builders have donated materials and labor, we are waiting for the County Commissioners to give us the contract for the county dogs and we are ready to move ahead."
That's how a web works, involving new people and spinning off into new causes. Baldwin proves the point. From the Animal Welfare League, she's spun off in a new web, working to establish a Pets on Wheels Program for Calvert County. Now, she's seeking more helping hands. "Currently I have a few people who go into the county's four nursing facilities, but I am in desperate need of more volunteers and their pets. Anyone interested can reach my home at 410/586-1332."
Caring for Animals
Pets on Wheels is already spinning in Anne Arundel County, with pets and their owners making home visits to homebound, mostly elderly, people in 13 nursing homes plus a few schools for special needs and Sarah's House, the homeless shelter at Ft. Meade.
"We have dogs, cats, rabbits and even a horse," says coordinator Susan Smith. "People touch and cuddle and bond with the animals. Many of these people lack visits from family and friends and their days go by all alike, so the visit is a real treat."
The nation's most organized animal outreach program is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was chartered in New York City in 1866.
In Anne Arundel County, the SPCA is an enormous operation offering countless services to animals and opportunities to humans. Among services offered by the two-vet clinic are low-cost spay and neutering and temporary foster homes. A Walk for the Animals each May helps mightily with expenses. This year about 300 volunteers raised almost $100,000; the event was chaired by a volunteer.
Especially clever is the Adopt-A-Pet Show. On local cable twice a month, it introduces animals needing homes to 85,000 people.
"I've worked with many organizations and can honestly say I've never seen more dedicated people than those who help with the animals here. They are just so special and care so much," says volunteer coordinator Lee Ann Rutkovsky.
Caring for People
Animals have many needs and friends, but the outpouring is even greater for people with special needs. So diverse and enormous are the needs that many programs survive only though the generosity and caring nature of volunteers.
"I'm always looking for ways to get more volunteers involved. Our area is very large, and we have over 700 volunteers delivering meals to the elderly and shut-ins Monday through Friday," says Nancy Shores, volunteer coordinator and 23-year veteran of Anne Arundel Meals on Wheels.
Shores gets some of her new volunteers by using elementary school children, Scout groups and the mentally challenged to write notes, decorate lunch bags and make cards to send with her meals. Her latest brainstorm is to get the home-schooled community involved. She hopes children can learn skills such as map reading and measuring distance while their parents deliver the meals.
Spiraling in another direction is the Association for Retarded Citizens of Anne Arundel County, a residential, vocational, family-supported advocacy for children and adults who are mentally retarded or developmentally disabled.
"They were tearing up the sidewalk outside our building and no one was quiet sure why. The next thing we knew we were involved," says Johanna Hunter, recruiter for the ARC.
The project is the extension of the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park and is going up to the Taylor Ave. circle. ARC will help by planting shrubs and flowers and giving hands-on horticultural opportunities to their clients.
Caring for Nature
More and more volunteer helping hands are coming together to protect and preserve Mother Nature.
State and county parks, wildlife preserves, marshes, lush farmland, fisheries and miles of beautiful shorelines combine to form our unique Bay Country environment.
Dwight Williams has his hands full managing three of Calvert County's most highly visited facilities: Flag Ponds, a Bay-front park; Kings Landing, a 260-acre open space park located on the Patuxent River; and Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary, a 100-acre ecological area of primeval beauty home to the northernmost stand of bald cypress trees in North America.
Williams showed up to volunteer on the United Way Day of Caring and Sharing at Calvert Cliffs State Park youth group area. Wet and muddy after working in the drizzle the day before Floyd came to visit, he explained why he found still more sharing time.
"I make it a priority to help whenever I can. I've been here twice before with the Optimist Club roofing the pavilions," he said.
Williams' parks have spun off their own thread, forming the Battle Creek Nature Education Society.
"We rely heavily on the talents and dedication of the volunteers so the paid staff can better attend their duties. Volunteers help us reach all of our parks' visitors," he adds.
Mother Nature's volunteers come from all walks of life and all ages. Seniors give guided tours and help with fishing derbies, elementary and middle school students plant forests and grow Bay grasses in their classes, fishermen create oyster farms and Boy and Girl Scouts build boardwalks and osprey stands.
Caring through Churches
Our Bay Country churches form a common thread in the peace and tranquillity of our communities.
Home to many of America's first churches, our communities are rich with tiny and grand structures each holding its own story in history, offering a place for us to seek shelter, hope, love and support. Many go to churches to pray but leave to help one another.
Service Makes Individual Life Exciting (SMILE), an ecumenical ministry of seven southern Calvert churches, enables people of all denominations to join the web, providing food, clothing, support and more for those in need.
As mounds of clothing, furniture, appliances and toys appeared and precious storage space disappeared, SMILE needed a warehouse.
In an unprecedented move, the State of Maryland sold one acre of state park property for $1 for the site. Calvert Commissioners allocated $50,000, an anonymous donor gave $150,000, free labor machinery and building supplies appeared and a beautiful 5,000 square foot facility became the new home of the organization.
When we visited SMILE, volunteers were crawling from the newly painted woodwork.
Cindy Avice, Michele Neel, Adele Maguire and Mary Smolinski, all members of the Calvert Garden Club, were busy planting shrubs and flowers. Avice steered us to Joan Kocen, civic landscape engineer, who rounded the corner with a flat of pansies.
"I travel the county, working on various projects like the Solomon's Riverwalk and Christmas decorations for the county courthouse and just meet the neatest people. I probably would have never had the opportunity to cross paths with most of them otherwise," says Kocen.
Avice offered more insight: "I was on the building committee, and you should talk to the elderly gentleman working in the corner. He's Buzz Oursler, the once-anonymous donor." (Read on; he'll appear again.)
Ask your church of choice for volunteer opportunities.
Caring for Culture
As churches focus our communities, culture fuses our past and present. Thousands of volunteers undulate in the web encompassing our culture.
Local theater delivers us from the everyday routine and involves us in fantasy worlds where we can achieve childhood dreams.
Anne Arundel's Colonial Players and Talent Machine and Calvert's Patuxent Playhouse Productions and Calvert Alumni Players are among the area non-profits hungry for volunteers. Offering their talents, they act, direct, build sets, work sound equipment. set up lights, sew costumes and work the box offices.
Music flowers in Anne Arundel's Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra which gives promising area music students ages eight to 18 the opportunity to perform great orchestral literature under the direction of professional conductors. They use volunteers to set up concerts, usher, manage the office, write grants, do publicity and take pictures.
In Calvert, The Friends of Jefferson Patterson Park is called upon daily to support the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and home to the Maryland State museum of history and archaeology, the museum shows how life has been for 12,000 years in Chesapeake Country and houses the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.
New additions like Annmarie Gardens, a public sculpture garden being developed on Calvert's St. John's Creek, combine museum-quality outdoor artwork with the tranquil setting of a nature garden.
As you enter the ceramic gateway to this prime 30-acre waterfront garden, you discover the diversity of its landscape is interwoven with human creations.
"I've been at the garden since its beginning, and all of my work has been with volunteers and a volunteer board," says Jennifer Draxton, the garden's development coordinator. "I wish the public knew more about the undertakings of volunteers and how much they really do. I have a huge network, all part of my volunteer base, and someone always comes through when I call with a need.
"The Boy Scouts always want to help and this year I made them my security for Artfest '99. They camped out over the two nights, policed trash and sold water and soda along the pathway. I used over 350 volunteers," says Draxton.
First held to commemorate the opening of the garden, Artfest is now an annual weekend festival of visual and performing arts drawing over 25,000 visitors.
A Volunteer Is Born
photo by Connie Darago Scouts from Troop 426 volunteered at the Discovery Tent at Annmarie Garden's Artfest '99.
Present, past and future solidify as new volunteers begin to spin through the Community Service Programs now required for graduation from any Maryland high school.
These programs introduce young people to new feelings of pride and accomplishment by enabling them to give something back to their communities. The hoped-for gains are many: Working with others to achieve common goals is supposed to help them gain insight and become better, well-rounded citizens able to meet challenges, make hard choices and gain respect for themselves, others and the world around them.
Dave and Penny Rodeffer of Calvert County began volunteering with their children. They carried on after their young left the nest.
"I started volunteering in schools when my children were young as a home room parent and PTA volunteer and moved with them to Scouts," says Penny. "You just sit there waiting after the plea has gone out for help. It seems to stay quiet for an eternity, but finally, you know, your hand rises automatically one more time. If you don't volunteer, it's probably not going to happen and you feel strongly it should."
Dave started volunteering when son Ben joined the local Cub Scout Troop, later moving to his passion, volleyball.
"There are many reasons I enjoy volleyball coaching. Starting with the joy of teaching young athletes, my reasons include being around people who love the sport as much as I do and having fun while I do it," says Dave.
As a coach for Junior Olympics Volleyball ages 16 and under for over 11 years, Dave has become a teacher and mentor, improving the level of play in Calvert's high schools and guiding teams through countless tournaments, state championships and even a National competition in 1998 in Dallas, Texas.
Society today demands we remove our rose-colored glasses and step into once forbidden worlds to offer protection to young people.
Anne Arundel County Sexual Assault Crisis Center and Hotline of Family and Children's Services offers a multiplicity of crisis intervention and counseling services to the county.
"Last year Anne Arundel had more than 200 sexual assaults, many of them involving children. In over 150 of these, a Crisis Center volunteer or staff responded by going to the hospital to offer support to the victim and their family. In order to continue our services we must maintain an active volunteer staff," says Lynn Freshour, hotline-volunteer coordinator.
Spiraling out, they have applied for a $10,000 grant to revive the Child Abuse Prevention Puppet Show and are reaching out to Anne Arundel's growing Hispanic community.
photos by Connie Darago Above, volunteer coach Dave Rodeffer with one of his Jr. Olympic volleyball teams.
Mohan Grover, unofficial mayor of Shady Side, is never too busy to help a neighbor or lend a hand to a community project.
When the grocer hears about someone in need, he says, 'Let's put up a jar.' So many jars have been placed on the counter at Renno's Food Market that even he can't recall the number.
Shady Side once hosted a fine display of pyrotechnics on the Fourth of July, but when money dried up, fireworks fell by the way.
Galesville's Heritage Society now hosts the annual popular event, but it remains costly to stage.
Grover became an ambassador this summer when he stretched a helping hand across the West River to raise money for the fireworks. Shady Siders tossed in coins, crumpled bills and goodwill until the jar grew to hold $830.
The Heritage Society honored Grover for his good deed by presenting him with a certificate of thanks and a gift of membership.
"I wanted to work together with them to help continue the fireworks," he simply said.
His latest jar, earmarked for lights for the Shady Side ball field, has raised over $1,300
Solomons Island's Buzz Oursler is an unsung hero who spins in a different direction.
We met him at the new SMILE facility, helping the Garden Club plant flowers.
"I volunteer in many places on the Island, here and at Calvert Hospice. I'm just glad to help these people who work so hard to help the community," said Oursler.
When it was obvious a new facility was needed to house community donations for the needy, the generous Oursler donated $150,000 for the new building.
"I knew if someone didn't step forward and give a lump of money to get the project started, it was going to be hard to raise the $300,000 needed for the facility, so I gave in hopes that others would follow. They did," Oursler said.
"I was contacted about the same time by Hospice for a donation and had to admit I had most of my funds committed, but after a little negotiation, I donated money for the new nurses quarters at the hospital. My wife was a nurse and I think she would have approved," he added with a smile.
Pointing across the newly laid pavement, he chuckled. "Do you see that man? He's my date for the Bugeye Ball, but I doubt we'll be dancing very much." He sauntered away, dirt in hand, and disappeared behind the building.
photo by M.L. Faunce Mohan Grover pitches in, among other ways, with collection jars for worthy causes at his Shady Side market.
Caring Full Circle
Volunteer journeys come full circle if the organization survives. Success stories mount and wish lists become shorter.
The Friends of Calvert Cliffs State Park has survived through dedication and determination. Major projects have been completed and many goals met.
When the state asked the group for a wish list, they put down everything. Even those things they knew might never be attainable. But guess what? The unattainable is at their fingertips as they forge ahead.
Calvert Cliffs will soon be home to a new multi-purpose par-course trail similar to the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail Park. The longtime dream was moved to the front burner this summer, a civil engineer/Friends member was hired and the course map drafted.
The first of its kind locally, the multi-purpose one-plus-mile circular trail includes a paved path with handicapped and regular exercise equipment, resting alcoves with benches trees and butterfly gardens. It is awaiting approval from the Department of Natural Resources.
M.L. Faunce contributed to the section of this story on Mohan Grover.
| Issue 46 |
Volume VII Number 46
November 18-24, 1999
New Bay Times
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