Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 24, 1994

The Way I See It: Volunteerism is 'Heartbeat' of University
By Steve Libowitz

Vernon Rice would rather nobody made too big of a fuss about his
volunteer work. But it's exactly that, and the people he touches,
that makes me want to make a fuss.
    Vernon is Homewood's lone auto mechanic, maintaining the 75
vehicles and 18 golf carts that service the campus. Every day for
the past 20 years, after his 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, he drives
to St. Anthony's Church in Gardenville. There, he picks up
anywhere from five to 15 messages from people in the neighborhood
who need food or help keeping their electricity from getting shut
off or from getting evicted from their apartment. After sorting
through the requests, Vernon goes out and helps.
    At a time when most churches and other community
organizations are getting out of the house-to-house service
business, Vernon presses on. From 4 to 5 every afternoon, he
takes food, which has been donated to the church, and delivers it
to those who need it most. Or he writes them a check for food or
one to the landlord or a utility company to help keep people
stable and warm. He laughs when asked if the neighbors love him,
saying he thinks they probably appreciate him. But he turns
serious when asked why he does it. Times are getting harder, and
people are getting more desperate, Vernon says. Sometimes people
want more than he has to give. But he keeps doing it because each
week he knows his work helps at least one person who really needs
    Vernon's volunteerism is special, but not unique at Hopkins,
and that's what is so amazing. At a university of more than 7,000
extremely busy faculty and staff and 16,000 driven students,
volunteerism thrives. 
    More often, our public service is driven as much by the
communities that look to Hopkins for help. And more and more, the
Hopkins family steps up to provide it.
    One example is the Safe and Smart Center, scheduled to open
in early January. Neighbors in Waverly, a neighborhood just east
of the Homewood campus, wanted to establish a community center
that would provide kids with a place to go and learn after
school. Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Office of Volunteer
Services for students, jumped on the idea and joined forces with
Annie Kronk's Office of State and Local Affairs, Baltimore's
Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the Baltimore Police Department and various
community associations. The result is that a space was found. The
landlord is paying the expenses of renovating the space as a
community center, and students at Hopkins will manage it at no
cost to the university. 
    More than 500 students each semester, about 10 percent above
the national average, volunteer for projects, such as the
one-on-one Tutorial Project, the largest and longest running
project on the Homewood campus. 
    Bill Tiefenwerth thinks management may be one key to
successful student volunteerism at Hopkins. He encourages them to
either take over volunteer projects, or suggest one and then
manage it.
    Last year, for example, Hopkins junior Matt Boulay created
Teach Baltimore, a program in which more than 30 students at
three area universities helped more than 175 inner-city students
prepare for the mathematics, reading and writing components of
the Maryland Functional Examinations.  Two years before that, two
graduating pre-med students felt that Hopkins should help show
urban youth that college is a possibility for them. They started
Project Outreach, which thrives well beyond their initial
    There are dozens and dozens of similar stories, of faculty
and staff and students who somehow find the time--make the time--
to help others.
    As we approach the holiday season, it's important to make
time for ourselves, our staffs and students, to roll up our
sleeves and be neighborly. While the Johns Hopkins Initiative to
raise $900 million will be our lifeblood for the foreseeable
future, community involvement--volunteerism--will surely be our

    The way I see it will be a regular column in the
    Gazette, providing a first-person forum for upbeat
    observations and comments on the Hopkins culture and
    environment. Faculty, students and staff are encouraged
    to submit ideas for this feature, but the editors
    reserve the right to determine which commentaries
    appear. For more information and guidelines, contact
    the editor at the office of the Gazette.

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