- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Pavel Tarasov stands proudly in front of Taft Junior High School in Northeast with shovel in hand and a wide smile across his face.

"I can change this world," says Mr. Tarasov, 29, from Russia.

He's one of hundreds of volunteers from around the globe who took to D.C. schools yesterday to kick off "School Readiness Month." The program, a joint effort between D.C. public schools and Service for Peace, beautifies and repairs the District's deteriorating facilities in time for the school year.

Service for Peace, a nonprofit organization, seeks to unite those of different backgrounds and to foster a sense of community through service work. The organization, founded by Hyun Jin Moon, solicited help from more than 80 organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Metropolitan Police Department, the International House of Prayer and the YMCA, among others.

"When all barriers to interaction are removed, our children can play key roles in transforming our institutions and binding our communities, moving us from a culture of selfishness to unselfishness," says Robert Kittel, the organization's secretary general.

Participants say the most rewarding part of the service is getting to know those they may never have associated with before.

"This world needs a little bit of change," says Inna Negulyaeva, 31, from Russia, looking up from her task of scrubbing an old desk in a second-floor hallway. "We are one big family on Earth, and we have to learn how to live together."

Volunteers cleaned old furniture, collected trash and even did some gardening yesterday at a dozen schools deemed most in need of repair by the D.C. Office of Facilities and Management. Supplies were donated by local organizations and the city. The District's 149 school buildings will open on Sept. 3.

Tymon Brown looks a little disappointed as his eyes wander across the facade of the old school, tattered and a bit forlorn in the midsummer heat, marred by broken windows, chipped paint and overgrown vegetation.

"I never really thought about the area other than around the Capitol," says Tymon, 14, from Virginia Beach. "It's mostly a really nice city, but there's some parts I really don't want to be in, like here. You find some things you wouldn't even normally think about. Even though it's the capital, it's not a perfect city. It still has a lot of problems."

Elena Temple, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Board of Education, says because of budgetary constraints much of the work needed on D.C. schools doesn't get done. "I'm sure that our maintenance staff will appreciate the assistance."

Miss Temple finds the experience rewarding not only to the students attending the schools, but to the volunteers helping to fix them. "It's important that young people are exposed to different people from different walks of life," Miss Temple says. "It broadens your outlook, and that's invaluable."

Inside, Marina Vinogradova, 26, also from Russia, is on her knees, scrubbing an old chair. "It's work," she says, "but you are happy when you are doing things for others."

Mr. Tarasov, who hopes to become a teacher like his mother, says there's no better place to begin changing the world than in Washington.

"This is not just the capital of America, I feel like it's the capital of the world. What goes on here influences the whole world."

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