Healing Hope: Two Undergraduates Devote Weekends to Helping Troubled Youth By Lisa Mastny For many of us, the weekend is a time to catch up on the lost pleasures of childhood. We go on picnics with our families. We play mini-golf and wreak havoc at the bowling alleys. We rent canoes and drift aimlessly in the warm sun. And then it's back to work. The two days of pleasure are, for most of us, all but forgotten. But Young Kwak and Suzan Pae won't be forgetting their weekends any time soon. The state won't let them. At a special ceremony last Wednesday in honor of Volunteer Recognition Week, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services recognized the two Hopkins seniors for their devotion to their weekend activity: keeping Baltimore City children out of trouble. For almost a year, Kwak and Pae have been the co-leaders of Healing Hope, an entirely student-run initiative that seeks to divert inner-city kids from their often harsh home environments. The Saturday program pairs approximately 10 Hopkins undergraduates one-on-one with children on probation, combining academic tutoring with educational or fun activities. "We wanted to expose the kids to things they have never had the opportunity to do before," Kwak said. "And they just love it. By knowing the student mentors and going on the field trips, many of them realize that there is more to life than hopelessness and violent crime." Most of the 10 to 15 children involved in the program have been referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice for minor offenses such as truancy or shoplifting, while a few are on probation for more severe crimes, including drug trafficking and weapons possession. "Some of these kids are as hard core as you can get," Kwak said. "It scared us at first, but then you realize that they are really pretty much just like us, and you wonder how they ever got into trouble in the first place. Some of them show real promise." Combining recreational activities with the more standard academic tutoring offers the children a chance to interact with Hopkins mentors as friends, and not just as students, Pae said. "When we started out, the kids were very suspicious and distant," she said. "After a while, they started to open up, and now they really enjoy coming back every week." Kwak and Pae picked up Healing Hope last summer after Michelle Kim, a friend of theirs who started the program two years ago, decided to study abroad. From Kim, they learned that they could obtain funding for the project through the Alumni Association's Community Service Internship Program, created in 1992 to expand alumni and student involvement in the communities surrounding Hopkins. Each semester, the eight-member CSIP committee of alumni and volunteers singles out a small number of student-initiated community service projects on the basis of a demonstrated need, ability and commitment to the community. This year, the Alumni Association set aside more than $22,000 for this purpose, earning the CSIP program a citation of appreciation from Maryland's secretary for juvenile services Stuart Simms. "We're very happy with the types of programs students have come up with and are more than willing to help out," said Sharon Hewitt, SAIS alumna and CSIP committee chair. "It is those alumni who pay dues who provide the seed money for programs like these." In addition to youth development projects like Healing Hope, student initiatives have ranged from providing services to the HIV-positive and AIDS-infected community in Baltimore City to running a biweekly exercise class for women at Rutland Transitional Housing in an effort to increase fitness and build self-esteem. While individuals or groups from any of the eight university divisions, graduates and undergraduates, are eligible for funding, interested students must first undergo an extensive application process which includes preparing a project budget and, if applicable, soliciting a letter of acknowledgment from the outside community organization sponsoring the project. Students must also meet with faculty, administrative or alumni monitors, who discuss the feasibility of the proposed projects and provide oversight once the initiatives have begun. "We give guidance to the projects by helping students with sensitivity issues and familiarizing them with the often unfamiliar urban environments and lifestyles," said Bill Tiefenwerth, monitor for Healing Hope and the director of the Office of Volunteer Services, which also received a certificate of appreciation for the project from the state. "But aside from the usual communication necessary for funding and feedback, the initiatives are almost completely student-run and tend to act as their own independent service agencies." "Bill Tiefenwerth gave us very good ideas and is just great with resources," said Pae. "If it weren't for him and the Alumni Association, we would never have gotten the award." In addition to providing students the opportunity to volunteer in nearby communities, CSIP provides community service organizations outside Hopkins with an important link to the university and its resources. "Hopkins is the only area school that offers any kind of reliable service for the Baltimore City at-risk youth," said Salah Fatah of the Baltimore City Department of Juvenile Services. "It's really a tremendous experience for our kids, to have a wonderful institution like Hopkins getting involved directly with their lives. Many of them now talk about long-range career goals, and some even want to go into careers in law or medicine." For more information about the Community Service Internship Program, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 516-0360.
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