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V is for Volunteering

What do a Chinese lion, size 17 shoes,
and a zucchini have in common?
They're all part of our A to Z guide to
Johns Hopkins volunteering.

By Maria Blackburn and Catherine Pierre
Illustrations by Dan Yaccarino

Forty years ago if we had wanted to present a round-up of volunteering at Johns Hopkins, it would have been something like "Our A to D Guide." Not that there wasn't volunteerism on campus. Quite the contrary — there was a dedicated group of people who tutored children, helped the poor, and otherwise filled needs where they saw them.

So why an A to Z guide now? These days, people aren't just responding to problems, says Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Center for Social Concern. They're bringing a whole range of new ideas to the table. Volunteers "take something out of their cultural background or a special ability to share it with others," he says.

The result is an astounding array of volunteer efforts that range from cooking ethnic foods for women living in shelters, to teaching ballet to city school students, to clowning around at local children's hospitals.

April is National Volunteer Month. In recognition, we present this sampling of good works taking place in and around the Hopkins community.

A is for About Face at Aberdeen
They are kids on the brink — high school dropouts with troubled backgrounds who are at risk of heading down the wrong path. Free State Challenge Academy at Aberdeen Proving Ground aims to help these teenagers redirect their lives. The program guides them in getting their GEDs and setting career goals while fostering self-esteem, confidence, and discipline. "It's like a military boot camp," explains Tykise Hairston, a graduate student at the Hopkins School of Nursing and U.S. Army captain who last year volunteered with the National Guard as a youth mentor. Free State, a 22-week residential academy, is much more than basic training. Hairston still keeps in touch with the 17-year-old she mentored who graduated from the program in December. She wouldn't have it any other way. "This is the one person who's putting their trust in you," she says.

B is for Big Shoes and a Bright Red Nose
The first time Alan Salas and Rahul Rasheed (see opening photo) volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Rasheed decided not to play it straight and to dress like a doctor-clown instead. "All the gags worked," says Rasheed, a neuroscience premed. "Everybody loved the whoopee cushion." That's when he and Salas, a premed studying biology and Italian, decided to start Clowning Around Baltimore to cheer up children at the Mt. Washington Pediatric Center. The group now has about 15 Hopkins undergrad clowns, who sport crazy wigs, size 17 shoes, and bright red noses. You don't need training, just enthusiasm. "If you have a nose, you're a clown," says Salas, whose squeaky rubber nose was a gift from his mom. Rasheed and Salas now spend most of their weekends entertaining kids. That's quite a time commitment, but it's a pleasure, says Rasheed. "It's important to have fun."

C is for Cultural Exchange
Legend has it that the Chinese Lion Dance brings blessings and prosperity while dispelling evil spirits. Here at Hopkins, the lion dance, as performed by the Chinese Lion Dance Troupe, does something else: It bridges people and cultures. For the last year, the all-volunteer troupe of 20 undergraduate dancers has donned the multi-person costume to perform at some two dozen shelters, libraries, hospitals, and schools. With each performance the group explains the dance and how it relates to Chinese culture. Then they encourage audience members to pick up a papier-m&aacirc;ché and fabric lion and try the dance themselves. "A lot of people have never seen the Chinese Lion Dance or heard about it before," says Audrie Lin, a senior biology major who founded the group. "It's the best feeling ever that they learn something about our culture. The kids really love it."

D is for Dumplings
Food isn't just about sustenance. It's about companionship, laughter, affection. Bound by their affinity for all of these things, a group of Hopkins undergrads gets together Friday afternoons for Cooking for Love. The volunteers — there are about a dozen each week — prepare a meal in the Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service Center, then transport it to My Sister's Place, a day program for homeless women and their children in downtown Baltimore. They've made double stuffed-cheeseburgers and baked ziti, but because the group is culturally diverse, the food tends to be as well. "We do stir fries, noodles dishes, and we do fried rice a lot," says Yoo Mee Shin, president of the group and a sophomore psychology major. The group has even made dumplings. For 30 people. On a budget of $40. "All of the volunteers have so much fun cooking," Shin says. "I love to cook. Why not do it to help people?"

E is for Extra Hot Half-Caf Vanilla Soy Chai Latte
Cup by cup, muffin by muffin, in five coffee bars dotted around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Women's Board of the Johns Hopkins Hospital makes its mark. Last year the volunteer group raised about $200,000 selling lattes and the like to some 2,700 patients, faculty, visitors, and staff per day. "It's one of our biggest fundraisers," says Brenda M. Erozan, the group's president. The Women's Board, which also runs the Carry-on-Shop thrift store and two hospital gift shops and organizes such fundraisers as the annual Best-Dressed Sale at Evergreen House, donates roughly $850,000 annually to Johns Hopkins Hospital. The money helps fund such projects as construction of the new children's and maternal hospital, the start-up of the Child Life Department and the Diabetes Center, and other smaller grants to support anything from the purchase of microscopes for the pathology department to buying sleep chairs for pediatrics. Now, that's a lotta java.

F is for Fulfilling Birthday Wishes
"There are those times when you sit around and think, Why can't we . . . ?" says Anne-Marie Williams. "And I thought, Why can't we help orphans?" Maryland no longer has orphanages, but Williams, an office administrator for the Air Defense Department at the Applied Physics Laboratory, found Villa Maria, a residential treatment facility in Timonium for children who are, for the most part, wards of the state. Ranging in age from about 5 to 14, most of these kids have no contact with their families. Though charities take care of them at some of the major holidays, Williams worried that one special day was being forgotten: "Birthdays are personal," she says. "It's the one day that no one else has." So she created Forget-Me-Nots. Working with the staff at Villa Maria, she gathers a list of children, their birthdays, and what they'd like. Then she enlists her APL co-workers to buy and wrap gifts to be delivered to the school. In the four years she's been running Forget-Me-Nots, not one of Villa Maria's nearly 100 children has been forgotten on that special day.

G is for Grandmother Get-Togethers
When grandmothers bring their grandchildren to the monthly Amazing Grandmothers program, they gather in a circle for a story, participate in a group blessing, and enjoy a home-cooked meal. But for these women raising their children's children in one of the worst neighborhoods in East Baltimore, it's the opportunity to share their stories that brings them back month after month to Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. "It's a sense of knowing they're not alone," says Lori Edwards, an instructor in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing who founded the group in 2002 and still volunteers. "They are happy to be together, all walking the same path." The group — a joint effort by the church, Tench Tilghman Elementary School, and the School of Nursing — currently has just over a dozen grandmothers, who range in age from mid-40s to 70s. These women have seen their share of hardship — family members with AIDS and in prison, lives ruined by crime and drugs, the trials of being seniors raising children — but they persevere. "One of the things that's been so amazing to me is how dedicated and strong these particular grandmothers are," Edwards says.

H is for Hammers, Houses, and Hard Work
Whiting School of Engineering's Todd Hufnagel volunteers with Habitat for Humanity through his church, which has constructed 13 houses in Baltimore's impoverished Sandtown neighborhood. "It's a very tangible way to feel like you've made a difference," he says. "By the end of the day on Saturday, you've built something." Rachel Heimann, assistant director of the Hopkins Hillel, agrees that building homes is valuable work, reflecting the "Jewish value of social action." Hillel participates in Habitat projects regularly as part of its Alternative Spring Break. The students usually choose "warm and exotic" destinations such as Mexico and El Paso, Texas. That way, they can do good and have a little fun.

I is for (Model) International Solutions
Each year, students at Hopkins' Nitze School of Advanced International Studies teach public school students about international relations through the D.C. Student Outreach program. They choose a relevant crisis — this year the focus is North Korea — and assign countries to individual high schools. During three weekly sessions, SAIS students teach each school's group about its country's perspective, policies, and concerns. Then the schools come together for a joint crisis simulation. Ravi Satkalmi, the SAIS student who directs the program, says that some of the pupils come from classes that require them to read newspapers daily; others have never even heard of the crisis at hand. But after the monthlong process, Satkalmi says, the students all seem to get it. Last semester, he says, he brought along a Hopkins student from Cyprus when the school was learning about that country. "They were really able to go back and forth with him," says Satkalmi.

J is for Jobs
The Computer Job Skills program, run by Hopkins undergraduates Luis Ticona and Chris Russell, teaches the women who reside at Marion House, a transitional home, the computer skills they need to land a job. The students are not computer whizzes — Ticona studies biology and psychology and Russell, international relations — so they concentrate on the basics. Success, says Ticona, can start by becoming comfortable sitting in front of a computer. Ticona remembers one woman who was mastering PowerPoint: "She had such a look of joy and happiness on her face. And I was like, this is cool. I'm doing a good thing."

K is for Kaboom!
Wanna get kids interested in science? Blow something up. It seems to work for Hopkins science researchers, who for the past five years have been inviting elementary school students to Hopkins for hands-on scientific experiments as part of the annual Community Science Day. "The show is usually entertaining," says Rhoda Alani, the Hopkins cancer researcher who started the program. "Things change colors, things explode." Alani says she wanted to "engage kids from around this community that we drive through every day and to give them a sense of what science is about." So she enlisted her colleagues to open up their labs to the students, and to demonstrate scientific principles in fun and interesting ways. The 9- to 11-year-olds participate in four different experiments throughout the day. The hope, says Alani, is that the day will spark a kid's interest in this kind of work. "Maybe a kid will say, 'Wow this is really neat.'"

L is for a Living Room Full of Stuff
For the past six years, Gloria Powell has volunteered to coordinate her office's participation in Adopt-a-Family, which provides underprivileged families with gifts, clothes, and food in December. Powell, the administrative assistant to the director of special programs at the Applied Physics Laboratory, collects presents and money from the 20 or so people in her office, shops for the two families they adopt, then assembles the goodies for delivery. (She also coordinates a 10-family effort for her church.) "This past Christmas we had one grandmother who had 10 grandchildren," she says. "You talk about a pile of stuff!" Powell, who serves on the board of a nonprofit shelter called Lazarus Caucus, also collects school supplies at APL, sending "boxes and boxes" to the kids at St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home. The people at APL are extremely generous, but she admits that she sometimes pushes her luck. "I do have a reputation," she says. When she walks in a room, "they ask, 'What's she collecting for now?'"

M is for Mozart and More
When Peabody Institute graduate student and guitarist Matt Carvin wanted to reach out beyond the confines of his practice room to the people of Baltimore, he decided to use music. So just over a year ago, Carvin gathered a group of like-minded Peabody students to form the Creative Access. The group of about 90 musicians gives free, 30-minute concerts at area day care and senior centers, hospitals, and schools. The group started off playing Mozart and Beethoven but has since expanded its repertoire to offer sing-a-longs of "You Are My Sunshine" and "If I Had a Hammer." "I find this very addicting," says Carvin, whose group has played some 60 gigs. "I love seeing firsthand how music can have an immediate effect on someone's happiness."

N is for the Next Generation at Hopkins
Once a month from October through March, Dennis Haslup, a communications supervisor for Hopkins Lifeline, heads to Tench Tilghman Elementary School in East Baltimore as part of Johns Hopkins Medicine's Adopt-a-Class program. There, he and colleague Wanda Moss open up discussion with the fourth-grade class on topics such as "Goals" and "Making Your Plans." Though the kids are welcome to talk about any kind of career, Haslup and Moss try to make them aware of the possibilities in the health profession. "The kids think that the only people who can work here are doctors and nurses," says Haslup. Through Adopt-a-Class, paramedics, communications dispatchers, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, and even people from finance are invited to talk to the students. In April, the students come to the Hopkins medical campus, where they get to see those careers in action. They also get an up-close-and-personal introduction to the hospital's ambulance and helicopter. "It's a blast!" says Haslup.

O is for Overcoming Childhood Obesity
As a pediatrician, Roy Hoffman saw the effects of childhood obesity firsthand. "This is a major problem facing pediatric health now," he says. "And it will only get worse 20 years from now if we don't take any action against it." Hoffman, who completed his pediatrics residency in 2003, thought that such a widespread problem should be tackled on a community level. So he decided to do another residency, this time in preventive medicine at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. There, he found a lot of people who shared his concerns. Last fall, Hoffman and several fellow preventive medicine residents (and later several other SPH students) teamed up with state legislators — notably Delegate Joan Stern and Senator Gwendolyn Britt — to work on bills to combat childhood obesity. If the bills pass, Maryland schools would have to follow new nutrition guidelines regarding what kind and how much food to serve to children, including a substantial reduction in junk food and sodas offered, and schools would have to meet new minimum standards for physical education.

P is for Pedal, Pedal, Pedal
In the heat of summer, the volunteers bike 4,000 miles from Johns Hopkins University to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to raise money to fight cancer. The annual trek, known as Hopkins 4K for Cancer, was founded in 2002 by Hopkins sophomores Leah Blom and Ryan Hanley, who wanted to combine their desire to combat cancer with their dreams of cycling across the country. Their journey was inspired by the memory of Hanley's father, John Hanley, who died of cancer in 1995. To date the group has raised about $160,000 for cancer research. "The experience was incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding," says Rob Byers, a 25-year-old Peabody Conservatory graduate student who was one of 27 students on the team last summer. Byers rode 50 to 110 miles every day for 64 days. He also helped raise $60,000 for the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in Baltimore. This year's trek — the fourth annual — takes off May 29.

Q is for Quality Health Care for the Homeless
Every Wednesday night, about 40 people line up at the Baltimore Rescue Mission Clinic, waiting to be seen by physician John Dalton and his team of Johns Hopkins "deputies." Both medical students and undergraduate hopefuls volunteer their time at the clinic to help provide the homeless with much needed primary care — and to get invaluable experience. Under Dalton's supervision, the students talk to patients about whatever problem brought them to the clinic. Then they present each case to the doctor and help make an assessment. This hands-on training not only allows the team to make it through a daunting caseload, it goes a long way toward prepping students for med school. "Whether it's your first time or your hundredth time, you get trained every single time you're there," says neuroscience major Eric Tan, who has volunteered at the clinic for two and a half years. "A lot of kids say they want to be physicians, but they don't really know what it means. This really reinforced that I wanted to help people in this capacity."

R is for Round, Perfect Pumpkin
Up and down and all around, the little boy from St. Jerome's Head Start program walked, surveying the pumpkins in the field. He looked at hundreds before he found the perfect one and hoisted it high. His usually serious face brightened. Months after this outing, Natalie Leonard still remembers that smile. Leonard, a secretary in the Dean's Office of the Whiting School of Engineering, was part of a United Way Day of Caring this fall that paired 17 Hopkins volunteers with 18 preschoolers of St. Jerome's Head Start. The event, organized by the Hopkins Office of Faculty, Staff, and Retiree Programs, was one of dozens of similar day-long community outreach projects that annually draw volunteers from across the university. Some volunteers paint schools and weed flowerbeds. Others clean up trash on the street. What keeps Leonard coming back? "It was just the satisfaction of knowing that I helped make a child happy for a day," the grandmother of five says. "The kids got so much out of it. So did I."

S is for Saving Smiles
Patrick Byrne has given lots of kids something to smile about. Each year, he takes a team of volunteers from Hopkins and other area hospitals — all pay their own way — to Ecuador to perform surgery on underprivileged children. The trips are organized by the non-profit Ecuadent Foundation. A Hopkins otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon, Byrne spends most of his weeklong trip repairing cleft lips and cleft palates — surgeries that have "the maximum impact for the minimum risk," he says. Byrne estimates that he's performed as many as 140 surgeries since he started these trips four years ago. "I [have been] so pumped up to help as many kids as possible that I probably overworked the staff," he says. This surgery spares children from a lifetime of difficulty breathing, eating, and speaking — and helps put an end to their feeling self-conscious about the way they look. Says Byrne, "The experience — when you hand this kid back to their mom, and sometimes the moms don't recognize the kid at first, and then they start smiling and crying and hugging you — it's just wonderful. It's awesome."

T is for Toothbrushes for Everyone!
Little things can mean a lot in Haiti, which is why teaching kids about dental health and handing out toothbrushes is so rewarding for Beth Sloand. "They love it," says Sloand, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. "Anything we do for the children — or for the adults — the people are grateful for whatever we bring." For the past six years, Sloand has been spending some of her vacation providing health care — for acute problems like infections and injuries to chronic hypertension and malnutrition — to the people of Leon as part of the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas. She has turned the trips into a teaching opportunity, taking along several nursing students and faculty as volunteers. Keeping people healthy in a place with no electricity, no phone service, and increasing violence is a challenge. (With the recent government upheaval, they've had to suspend the student trips as part of the Johns Hopkins program.) But Sloand is committed to her mission. "The first time I went to Haiti, I was just taken with the place," she says. "I don't feel that I have a choice. I just have to go back and do what I can."

U is for Unabashed Enthusiasm
They dance in stocking feet. They practice in a multipurpose room with pool tables but no mirrors and no barre. But the 20 or so elementary school students involved in the after-school ballet and tap program at Barclay Recreation Center in Baltimore don't care. "They really love coming to class each week," says Brittany Sterrett, a Hopkins sophomore who has volunteered to teach ballet for the last two years. The class is coordinated through the Greater Homewood Community Corporation. The students will show off their new dance moves in a talent show this spring. "Baltimore doesn't really have any arts programs in the schools, and especially not a dance program, so it's a good way for them to express themselves through art — and exercise at the same time," Sterrett says.

V is for Very Messy Hands
They paint. They glue. They glitter. They spend hours creating greeting cards, picture frames, and other crafts, then they give them away to organizations like Meals on Wheels, Keswick Nursing Home, and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. For the 100-plus student volunteers of Patchwork, a group that was started two years ago by junior Allison Leung, crafting has become a vital way to connect. "I think arts and crafts are one of the best ways to develop a relationship with others," says Leung, whose group also crafts with children at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. "When you do an art project you really put yourself in it, and it reflects you and how you feel. So it is a great way to interact with the Baltimore community."

W is for "We Know You're Young, But It's Time to Start Thinking About Your Future"
The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) recruits professionals from around the state to help high school students prepare for life after graduation. Not only do hospital president Ronald Peterson and university board of trustees chair Raymond "Chip" Mason serve on its board, but 77 other Hopkins volunteers (up from just 19 last year) have signed up to go into classrooms and speak directly to the students. After receiving training, they visit ninth-grade classes to talk about their jobs, give personal accounts of professional steps (and missteps), and advise students about how to prepare for life after high school. "I didn't know that colleges looked at your grades from ninth, 10th, and 11th grade. . . . I thought it was only from the 12th grade," said one student after an MBRT visit. Said another: "I learned that people don't always have to know you to care about you."

X is for XL Xmas
Members of the Hopkins men's lacrosse team are top-ranked athletes and hardworking students. They're also community volunteers. As part of the new "Holiday Magic" program initiated by assistant coach Seth Tierney, the team raised $5,330 and collected hundreds of toys, articles of cold weather clothing, and school supplies for needy Baltimore children. Members of the team delivered the gifts to city schoolchildren, patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Children's Center, and the Marion House. "One of the neatest moments for me came at the Hopkins Hospital clinic," recalls co-captain Chris Watson. "I gave a young boy a gift, and his eyes lit up. But then he didn't open it. I asked him if he needed help with the wrapping paper, and he said 'No,' that he was going to save the gift until Christmas morning so he could have something to enjoy. "It was pretty amazing," he continues. "It reminded us all how lucky we are to live the comfortable lives we do, and to have the chance to represent one of the world's top institutions on the [lacrosse] field and in the community."

Y is for Young at Heart
The young have enthusiasm. The old have experience. Put the two groups together and what do you get? Experience Corps Baltimore. The volunteer service program is a partnership between Johns Hopkins, the Baltimore City Schools, Civic Ventures, and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation. The program places teams of trained older adults in the city's elementary schools to work in classrooms, school libraries, or in supportive roles such as teaching violence prevention and monitoring attendance. Last year, 90 senior citizens volunteered at six city schools. No doubt they deserve an "A" for "Admirable."

Z is for Zucchini
Inch by inch, row by row, the brothers of Alpha Phi Omega are helping to make the gardens of Garden Harvest grow. The Glyndon-based nonprofit donates its crops of organic fruits and vegetables to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other not-for-profits that feed the hungry. But it's a big job, and they need lots of help. Enter APO, the largest student-run community service organization on the Homewood campus. With more than 150 active members, the fraternity regularly provides volunteers for 20 to 25 projects in Baltimore, including Our Daily Bread, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and Junior Achievement. That's about 2,300 to 3,000 service hours each term. For APO's Susie So Jang, working on the farm last summer was a welcome way to practice her love of gardening while meeting interesting people. "The atmosphere was really relaxed and fun," says Jang, a senior majoring in neuroscience who is APO's project coordinator for Garden Harvest. "You not only work with people from Hopkins, but sometimes high school students and other service organizations from different universities are working alongside you. So you get to meet and bond with a great variety of individuals."

A is for Act Now!

If you're interested volunteering, here are some groups that can get you started:

Center for Social Concern
CSC is a volunteer clearinghouse and training ground for Johns Hopkins undergraduates. Student groups apply for both recognition and funding. Currently, CSC administers more than 30 student groups and runs such outreach efforts as Baltimore Free University, the JHU Tutorial Project, the freshman day of service, and others. 410-516-4777,

Johns Hopkins Health Systems Corporate and Community Services
JHHS offers volunteering opportunities through a number of community partnerships. Faculty and staff can participate in a variety of programs — from one-on-one mentoring and reading days at city elementary schools, to neighborhood cleanups, to the annual "Science Day," in which nearly 200 kids spend the day at Hopkins doing hands-on experiments in the laboratories. 410-614-0744.

Johns Hopkins Medicine Youth and Community Programs
JHM's Department of Human Resources maintains community partnerships that help current and future members of the workforce. Volunteer opportunities for staff include adult-education programs that teach skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. Youth programs include mentoring, paid and non-paid internships, job shadowing, lectures, college and career fairs, and tours of the Johns Hopkins facilities.

Office of Faculty, Staff, and Retiree Programs
Part of JHU's Human Resources Department, the Office of Faculty, Staff, and Retiree Programs was established in 1992 to encourage team spirit among the university's 25,000 employees and to strengthen their community involvement. The office runs the university's United Way of Central Maryland campaign and offers numerous service opportunities, including American Red Cross blood drives, the American Cancer Society's Daffodil Days, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards, and many others. 410-516-6060,

Started in January 2005, the SOURCE (Student OUtreach Resource CEnter) is the community service and volunteerism center for the schools of Public Health, Medicine, and Nursing, linking students, faculty, and staff with local nonprofits. Its community partners are mostly in close proximity to the East Baltimore campus and work in advocacy, neighborhood development, the environment, tutoring and mentoring, HIV/AIDS, mental health, community health, and many other areas. 410-955-3880,

Spirit of Giving
Spirit of Giving is a volunteer committee that coordinates charitable work at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Each year they sponsor the Ron Vauk car wash (Vauk was an APL employee killed at the Pentagon on 9/11; car wash proceeds go to a fund to support his children and to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center), the Angel Tree, and Toys for Tots, among others. 443-778-6286 or 443-778-4803.

Directory of Community Partnerships
The Directory of Community Partnerships presents an inventory of the community-oriented initiatives affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Institutions in the Baltimore/Washington area. The directory includes a listing of projects, project-specific information, information for service users and project volunteers, and a searchable database. Right now, only Johns Hopkins personnel can view the database (those interested can request access by e-mailing, though it will be available to the general public this spring.

Greater Homewood Community Corporation
GHCC works to strengthen the 40 neighborhoods of north central Baltimore through improving education, supporting youth development, and advancing economic development. Volunteering opportunities include mentoring children in schools, providing literacy and English language programs, working with neighborhood associations, and helping to promote appreciation of the Jones Falls watershed. 410-261-3500,

Return to April 2005 Table of Contents

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