More than two dozen Johns Hopkins University students and staff painted the corridors of the 29th Street Community Center on Saturday as part of the school's annual President's Day of Service. Among them was the university's president himself.
Crouching on his knees with brush in hand to cover a few hard-to-reach spots on the walls outside the center's main office, Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels modeled roles he wanted students to play when he launched the community service day in 2009. Daniels says that what began with a few hundred volunteer students has now grown to about 1,200.
They gathered Saturday morning at the university's Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center on the Homewood campus and then set out to take part in outreach projects in 40 locations throughout Baltimore.
Among them: Friends of Wyman Park, Baltimore Animal Care and Rescue Shelter, Hampden Elementary/Middle School and Shepherd's Clinic. The projects lasted from noon to 3 p.m.
"What's really significant is that with this day, you are able to acquaint students with the excitement and reward of community service," said Daniels. "They continue on with affiliations and a host of other organizations."
JHU officials said that alumni associations chapters in Los Angeles, Orange County, Calif., and Seattle also took part in the event in their respective cities. At the school's medical campus in East Baltimore, volunteers were with such organizations as Project PLEASE and the Living Classrooms Foundation.
The President's Day of Service is organized by the JHU Center for Social Concern, which houses more than 60 community service groups that perform outreach projects in the Baltimore region. The center's director, Rollin Johnson Jr., said that events like President's Day of Service teach students that they "have a responsibility to be part of a community.
"And that responsibility looks different for everybody, because everybody has different talents and skills," added Johnson. "The cool part of my job is that on a day-to-day basis I get to work with folks that are really vested in trying to make things better. The work in our office with the students is how do we build that civic skill."
Beverly Wendland, interim dean of the JHU Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, took part at the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School on Windsor Avenue, joining a group of Hopkins students that have formed partnerships with disadvantaged students in local high schools.
"I hope to learn more about the Baltimore community that is adjacent to Johns Hopkins; I look at all these experiences as learning opportunities," said Wendland. "For our students, they're also going to have their horizons broadened, though I think that some of them are already out there."
Indeed, 29th Street Community Center director Hannah Gardi said that in addition to the school providing seed funding to reopen the center three years ago after the city shut it down, JHU students volunteer in after-school programs as well.
Still, students say that the rigors of school work can tend to insulate them from the city, even on an open campus such as JHU.
"We're always in this bubble here at Hopkins," said junior Bahareh Jabbari of Baltimore. "I love President's Day of Service because it gets everybody out here in Baltimore and they get to learn what's going on and interact with community members. We normally don't get the chance to do that here."
In fact, sophomore Chase Alston of Waldorf said that at Johns Hopkins, which enrolls students and staff from across the throughout the U.S. and abroad, if you ask most folks about Baltimore they will mention their campus and the Inner Harbor.
"And if you don't really go into Baltimore you only get the negative aspects of it," Alston said. "Going to these different sites and community organizations helps people to see that there's a lot of good in Baltimore, too."