By Aaron Levin
Indu Bulbul Sandwa helps homeless people find jobs. Jody Kaplan helps Baltimore schoolchildren retain over the summer what they've spent a winter learning in school. Matt D'Agostino teaches inner city kids to take photographs, and watches the pleasure they get from exhibiting their pictures.
All three perpetuate a longtime Johns Hopkins tradition of volunteer service to the communities surrounding the Homewood campus. The center for this activity is the second floor of Levering Hall, where students dash in and out of Bill Tiefenwerth's office all day. Tiefenwerth, director of the Office of Volunteer Services, oversees about 40 programs through which 600 students offer direct service to the community. Among the best-known is the tutorial program, through which 100 volunteers each semester tutor area schoolchildren.
"Hopkins students aren't given a name and a phone number and thrust into an agency or school setting," Tiefenwerth says. "The office staff works with the student to address a demonstrated need in the community with an action plan." Each student volunteer working through this office must be willing to work on a consistent, long-term basis, requiring a minimum of a one-semester participation. "We ask the same commitment from the host agency or community. It is then hoped that there will be an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship, and that the student will engage other students in the work as well."
While Tiefenwerth is constantly looking for new ways his volunteers can get involved, some of the best ideas come from the students themselves. Premed students-calling themselves Germbusters- have taught health-awareness programs at nearby Barclay School. Other Hopkins students conduct art or sports programs at the Margaret Brent Elementary School, or are working to bring back the now-closed public library branch on St. Paul Street. Matt D'Agostino approached OVS, as it is known on campus, with his own personal vision of service to the Baltimore community.
D'Agostino, a graduate student in sociology, got interested in photography as an undergraduate at Creighton University in Omaha. Now, through the Greenmount Recreation Center, he runs a program teaching underprivileged children to take photographs. He proposed the idea, and was told to get it rolling in three weeks.
"We give kids point-and-shoot cameras that have been donated or purchased with money provided by private donors, city monies and the support of the Greater Homewood Community Coorporation," says D'Agostino "We start with a week of simple lessons, like Don't shoot into the sun unless you use the flash."
Once the kids understand how to use the cameras, D'Agostino gives them assignments. Soon, he sees lots of pictures of family members, friends and street scenes. D'Agostino also takes them on field trips to places like Gunpowder State Park or a horse farm, exposing them to a world beyond their home streets as well as giving them new subjects to shoot.
D'Agostino's young photographers have exhibited their works at the recreation center and in the Garrett Room of the university's Milton S. Eisenhower Library.
"The kids enjoy seeing their own stuff on the wall," says D'Agostino, who believes the program teaches them more than how to work with a camera. "They see new things, go new places and learn what people do for a living. More important, they get recognition for their efforts and a sense of personal affirmation."
Indu Bulbul Sandwa, a senior majoring in public health, reaches out to other constituencies. Her work for Hands to the Homeless takes her into shelters, where she helps people prepare resumes so they can go looking for work.
"I try to talk more about what they want to do, to listen to what they want," says Sandwa. "I've learned that homelessness can hit anyone."
Other times, under a program called WIC-Hope, Sandwa may accompany social workers on visits to young mothers, playing with their children while the social workers register the women for the Women-Infants-Children program, which provides free or low-cost milk and other foods to low-income mothers.
On April 4, Sandwa will be engaged in the one-day Into the Streets with HOPE project. She hopes to mobilize hundreds of students, staff and faculty to do a massive community serve-a-thon. Volunteers will be at sites all over Baltimore, including soup kitchens, AIDS clinics, nursing homes and family centers. The theme of the event is "Try it for a day, love it for a lifetime."
Jody Kaplan organizes Teach Baltimore, a summer academic program for city school kids; about half of her 34 teachers last summer were Hopkins undergraduates.
Teach Baltimore tries to undercut some of the "summer effect" that all students experience: the loss over summer vacation of knowledge gained in the classroom during the school year. The summer effect is worse for poor kids who, compared to their middle-class counterparts, lack the resources for cultural enrichment, Kaplan says.
The college students have to commit full-time over the summer. This summer, like last, they'll be working with students from Northern High School and the three New Compact Schools in Sandtown/Winchester. Classes are kept small, just eight students for each teacher, so students get much more personal attention in the course of the school day.
The Teach Baltimore program starts with academics in the morning, when the kids are fresher; half of the time is devoted to reading and writing, the other to math and science. Afternoons at the elementary schools are taken up with drama, arts and crafts, computer study and physical education; high school students get a large helping of career skills as well. Students go on weekly field trips to museums, state parks or the zoo. They also get free breakfasts and lunches to ensure adequate nutrition.
College students working in the program, which is funded by a group of private, civic and nonprofit organizations, receive $1,000 for their efforts. The program lasts eight weeks, and the teachers get several weeks of training beforehand. Kaplan has spent her winter writing a program manual and recruiting still more college students to teach in the summer of 1998.
To get involved in Hopkins projects, contact the Office of Volunteer Services at 410-516-4777.