Arbutus, Lansdowne recreation programs must rely even more on volunteers

Volunteer Joan Mitchell expects the annual Easter egg hunts put on by the Lansdowne-Riverview and Baltimore Highlands recreation and parks councils on April 7 to be like any of the others she's helped organize over the past seven years.

More than 100 children will blitz Hillcrest Park in Lansdowne at 11 a.m. Saturday and another similarly-sized group will loot Unger's Field in Baltimore Highlands at 2 p.m.

Within 10 minutes, the children will have scooped up each of the 1,500 eggs placed at the sites, Mitchell predicted.

"They're like rockets," said Mitchell, a chairperson of two programs for the Lansdowne-Riverview Recreation and Parks Council. "The council, we're all about the kids and this is something we do every year."

The tradition is likely to continue even though the Arbutus and Lansdowne-Riverview/Baltimore Highlands recreation offices merged March 1 to form the Arbutus, Lansdowne, Baltimore Highlands and Riverview Recreation and Parks Office.

Barry Williams, director of the county's Department of Parks and Recreation, called the consolidation of the two offices an internal change that likely would not affect the recreation programs.

"It should really be a seamless sort of thing," Williams said. "If anything, there will be more coordination, more opportunity for folks to work together."

The department reshuffled its resources after employees accepted a retirement incentive that the county offered to save money, Williams said.

"Everything is really predicated by the economy," Williams said. "The reality is, this county is trying to take measures so that we don't experience layoffs or downturns that the contiguous jurisdictions have."

Michelle Washington, formerly the community supervisor of the Edmondson/Westview Recreation Office in Catonsville, took over as head of the consolidated office in early March, Williams said.

"Baltimore County has been very fortunate, we have not had any of those economy downturns, but it does require us to be more efficient," Williams said.

Williams said programs that require a large amount of staff, such as the lacrosse tournaments, are the ones the department will have to consider eliminating.

"They're very popular and there are a lot of people involved, but it's still a very staff-intensive piece," Williams said. "If we can't do a quality program, quite frankly, I don't want to run it."

In order to keep programs alive, Williams said, "We're going to be asking volunteers to step up where we need assistance."

He noted that the county already has a strong, experienced group of volunteers in place.

Mitchell said that her Easter egg hunts usually have between four and eight volunteers at each event and her council always finds a way to keep its most popular programs.

"Even though registrations are down and money is down, we always find a way," Mitchell said, noting this year's hunts were funded by $250 donations from the councils to purchase candy and prizes.

Mitchell said her council has a shortage of volunteers and joked that people run when they see her walk down the street because they know she will ask about their availability to volunteer.

"That's the story we get from kids. 'My mom is tired.' 'My dad is working,' " Mitchell said. "It's hard to get a volunteer."

Life-long Baltimore Highlands resident Stacey Burke, the secretary of the Baltimore Highlands Recreation and Parks Council, learned to volunteer from her parents, Bob and Nancy Andrews.

Burke passed the volunteer spirit on to her three sons, Nicholas, 29, Tyler, 21, and Daulton, 15, who also live in Baltimore Highlands, she said.

"It's just something you do. You give back to your community," Burke said. "These kids are family."

Burke said her recreation council is well-stocked with between 100 and 150 volunteers and many volunteer in multiple programs.

Without the volunteers, the council would be in trouble, Burke said.

"We found it's easier to do stuff on our own, instead of waiting for people to do stuff for us," Burke said.

Burke understands that many people simply don't have the free time to volunteer, she said.

"When you have three or four kids who are different ages, it's really hard to spread themselves," Burke said.

"A lot of people have to work two jobs," she said. "I don't think they don't want to (volunteer). I just don't think they can."

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