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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 10, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 2
A Hands-On Intro to 'Baltimore: My New Home Town'

Tian Han gives the Wyman Dell restrooms a new coat of yellow paint.
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Last Wednesday, the day before classes began, freshman Tian Han found himself on a ladder in Wyman Park applying brushstrokes of paint to the trim of an old stone building in one corner of the 13-acre park, located at the southern edge of Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus.

While certainly not in disrepair, the public restroom required a sprucing up inside and out. The paint had faded, graffiti marks were evident, and the place needed a good scrub.

The restroom cleanup was just one item on the to-do list of Han and nearly 130 other yellow-shirted freshmen who came to Wyman Park as part of Involved 2007, the annual freshman day of service. Nearby, a group of students shoveled three tons of mulch, while others picked weeds, unclogged sewer drains, cleared paths and helped remove some recently felled trees.

Mother Nature had been kind and provided a warm and sunny day, as bright as the yellow paint that Han happily applied.

"It's fun," said Han. "We want to help out. We are new here. We want to do everything we can to improve the community."

So, they did.

In total, nearly 700 members of the Class of 2011 took part in Involved 2007, which incorporated 27 projects at 30 locations near the Homewood campus.

This year's event, named "Baltimore: My New Home Town," brought together freshmen and upperclass student leaders with local volunteer agencies and community advocates.

Students met at Shriver Hall in the morning, worked on their respective projects through the day and reconvened at the Interfaith Center for a reflection session.

Jean Boisvert, Katie Lepoer and Rachel Bass get ready to plant pocket gardens in the sidewalks near the Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington.
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

The day of service, coordinated by the university's Center for Social Concern, introduces students to problems that Baltimore faces, as well as solutions to those problems. The center is the student volunteer office on the Homewood campus, and it currently has more than 40 student groups that are committed to serving the Baltimore community.

Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Center for Social Concern, said that Involved is intended to introduce undergraduates to their surroundings and the idea of making service integral to their lives and studies, the core mission of the center.

"The Center for Social Concern is about building relationships between the undergraduate community and area agencies, schools and grassroots activists. Involved is stage one in that," Tiefenwerth said. "Yes, they see tremendous need in the surrounding community, but they also get a chance to meet the people addressing these needs, and hopefully they'll be inspired enough to want to work side by side with these leaders."

In addition to the Wyman Dell project, students planted "pocket gardens" in the Remington area, helped organize donations at a clothing shelter, made sandwiches for an AIDS clinic and peeled, washed and froze potatoes for Project PLASE — Peo- ple Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment.

Other projects included cleaning up parts of Charles Village, a project coordinated by Civic Works; assembling furniture and beautifying the grounds at Barclay Elementary School; and working with the Parks & People Foundation on greening projects in the Barclay neighborhood.

Tiffany Chen, coordinator of Involved 2007 and a member of the Center for Social Concern's student advisory board, said that while the day entails only about four hours of direct service, the students can make a significant impact in that short span.

The work in the Wyman Dell, for example, accomplished in a matter of hours what would normally take several weekends of volunteer work.

"And the amount of potatoes the students went through at Project PLASE was enough to last them weeks, or even months. All the work is definitely worthwhile," Chen said. "It's all about going into the community and doing some hands-on, direct service that might spark something with someone."

Chen said her own day of service project introduced her to the Center for Social Concern, which in turn got her involved with the JHU Tutorial Project, one of the 45 programs the center oversees year-round. Through the after-school Tutorial Project, Baltimore City elementary school students are paired with Hopkins students to receive one-on-one help in reading, math and writing. The program currently includes nearly 120 Hopkins students.

Tiefenwerth said that the center is about making connections between Johns Hopkins undergraduates and the city. He said that he wants the students to step outside of campus and become community members themselves.

"This is not just a stop-off point for four years. If you think about Baltimore as your new hometown, you will get involved and get connected," he said. "This is also not just about a one-time freshman day of service. We want students, ideally, to serve the community throughout their four years. We want them to make a connection with the city and leave feeling good about Johns Hopkins and Baltimore. This way they can be active alums and come back to Baltimore, and perhaps want to stay here. Service, I believe, makes a real impact."

For more information about the Center for Social Concern and its work, go to


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