- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

BALTIMORE — A national gathering of the United States’ “armies of compassion” closed out its three-day meeting yesterday with a lesson from a baseball legend.

Teamwork is the way to success, and teamwork comes from personal connections, retired Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. told the National Conference on Community Volunteering and National Service.

“It takes a little work to spread yourself around,” he said, “but I think the success in making a difference in your community is one to one to one. It’s all in the people.”

Mr. Ripken, who was invited by President Bush to be part of the new President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, was one of many government, civic, community and youth leaders who addressed the conference in the Baltimore Convention Center.

About 2,600 leaders and volunteers gathered to share practical knowledge about organizing, funding and accomplishing public service, and to “spread the message” of volunteering and national service.

“Our nation wouldn’t be the same without volunteers,” said Sandy Scott, a spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a conference co-sponsor.

Many conference speakers noted that the United States is a volunteering nation.

According to data from Independent Sector, a trade group for nonprofit groups, 83.9 million adults volunteered 15.5 billion hours in 2000. This volunteer work force represented 9 million full-time employees, with a value of $239 billion.

Mr. Bush has emphasized public service by urging people to volunteer at least 4,000 hours, or two years, during their lifetimes. His new council on service and civic participation is looking for nominations for outstanding youth, adult and family volunteers.

This follows the creation of the USA Freedom Corps in 2002 to coordinate Americans’ volunteer efforts domestically and abroad.

Mr. Bush joins President Clinton and the first President Bush in making volunteering and community service a “cornerstone in their administrations,” said Robert K. Goodwin, president and chief executive of the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center National Network, another conference co-sponsor.

This steadfast presidential leadership has paid off “in a surge of interest and commitment” to public service as a solution for seemingly intractable social problems such as poverty, illiteracy, violence and teen pregnancy, Mr. Goodwin said.

A highlight of the conference was a partnership agreement signed by the Points of Light Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security to support the Citizen Corps. These new local units of volunteers respond to disasters and provide training in preparing for emergencies.

The September 11 attacks were a watershed event for public service.

“This era will be called the 9/11 era,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service — the federal agency that oversees the Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs.

“The post-September 11 world is more precarious and more uncertain and more challenging,” he told several hundred youthful AmeriCorps volunteers yesterday. “Leaders such as yourselves” need to rise to the top and prove themselves, he said.

The Corporation for National and Community Service has come under criticism from some members of Congress for having problems, primarily for accepting more AmeriCorps applications than it could sustain. The program realized late last year that it was going to come up short in the funds needed to pay all its volunteers and had to temporarily freeze enrollment.

Mr. Lenkowsky addressed some of AmeriCorps’ funding issues yesterday. “We will not leave a stone unturned” in ensuring that AmeriCorps is as big as it can be, he said.

Mr. Lenkowsky and Mr. Goodwin said charitable groups still face many challenges, such as recent budget shortfalls in states and communities.

Seniors and teens make up the fastest-growing groups of volunteers, but it remains difficult to obtain time and energy commitments from other age groups, Mr. Goodwin said.

Partnerships with businesses are part of the answer, he said, noting that Callaway Golf Co. and KPMG LLP of Los Angeles were both honored this year for their employee-led food drives and other public services.

Even though there’s a greater willingness to serve, “people still need to be asked [to help] by organizations who will use people productively,” Mr. Lenkowsky said.

To that end, the annual conference offered opportunities for nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, businesses and government agencies to network, share best practices and solve problems, he said.

As part of the conference, those who attended had a chance to serve the Baltimore area. One day volunteers helped refurbish some schools and playgrounds, and yesterday some volunteers served meals and assisted at three homeless shelters.

Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, who opened the conference Sunday, noted that a Governor’s Office of Volunteerism was created in 1983. Since then, she said, the state has developed a volunteer network, including 13 volunteer centers that coordinate people with service opportunities.

Two local women were recognized as outstanding volunteers :

• Gertrude “Trudi” McGowan, an Annapolis AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer, was honored for her expertise in organizing leadership training for high school students, and recruiting volunteers for tutoring and mentoring programs.

• Susan H. Wilson, a 10th-grade English teacher in Alexandria, was honored for helping older students mentor preschoolers and connecting computer-savvy young people with seniors learning how to use computers.

At yesterday’s events, Art and Pat Modell, owners of the Baltimore Ravens, were honored for their community service.

Amy Fagan and researcher Clark Eberly contributed to this story.

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