Benevolent Baskets' board member Mary Swanson, who manned the tables of auction items, was amazed how quickly they went. To her right, Tina Doordan and Robin Roberts match their auction tickets against the numbers on bottles of wine they'd won.
Benevolent Baskets' board member Mary Swanson, who manned the tables of auction items, was amazed how quickly they went. To her right, Tina Doordan and Robin Roberts match their auction tickets against the numbers on bottles of wine they'd won. (By Sharon Lee Tegler, Correspondent, Capital Gazette)

There was excitement last week in the classrooms of Benfield Elementary School fifth-grade teachers Robin Enders and Patti Bartlett. Their pupils chatted animatedly as they adjusted their costumes and prepared to take on the personas of historically significant Americans.

The 10-year-olds were well-prepared thanks to the tutelage of artist-in-residence Mary Ann Jung, who met with the children once a week for a period of six weeks.

Jung - an award-winning actress best known for her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Rosalie of Riversdale, Rosie the Riveter and Julia Child - has conducted residencies in public schools across Maryland. She teaches students how to research their characters and write simple scripts, and shares tips on how to construct costumes from typical household items such as pillow cases. She also teaches them simple makeup techniques.

Most importantly, she imparts basic acting skills like how to project their voices and inject emotion into their reenactments.

Enders' students began with a certain amount of shyness but a large amount of creativity reenacting historical women like Dolley Madison, Julia Grant and Sacagawea and men like Presidents James Monroe and Ulysses S. Grant and artist George Catlin. They also enacted some of history's most dramatic moments including the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

Some of the children took great care with their costumes. Ella Ryan's Dolley Madison costume, for example, combined a multitiered, floor-length white dress with a little black cape and a headpiece of which the flamboyant first lady would have approved.

Emma Smearmans' buckskin dress was perfect for her portrayal of Sacagawea.

As Jung taught them, the students followed their performances with theatrical bows followed by loud cheers of "huzzah" from their classmates. Each budding actor received a special certificate from Jung acknowledging his or her participation.

Outgoing by nature, Bartlett's pupils were bolder in their portrayals. The boys focused on strong characters ranging from Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln to explorers like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark or artists like John James Audubon. The girls were positively fervent in their portrayals of crusading women Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Carrie Nation.

Costumes ran the gamut from silks and satins to gingham dresses with bonnets for the girls, and tricorner or stovepipe hats and heavy fake beards for the boys. One particularly clever lad created a frock coat and bow tie for Madison from a black plastic trash bag.

Performances from Bartlett's fifth-graders were strong, resulting in rousing huzzahs and praise from Jung. Proud to accept their certificates, several students appeared to have caught the acting bug.

Benevolent Baskets

Co-founders

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Karen Lerario

and

Leslie Geisel

were overjoyed that so many supporters turned out for Benevolent Baskets' benefit luncheon at Chartwell Golf and Country Club on May 16. Proceeds from the event went to the organization's transitional skills program for women living in poverty.

The fundraiser combined a luncheon with a silent auction and wine raffle. Volunteers displayed three of the organization's most popular baskets for auction in the lobby. In the ballroom, board member

Mary Swanson

manned a table of donated auction items ranging from a handsome handmade quilt to dozens of prettily-packaged bottles of wine.

Guests came from as far away as Montana, but most were from Severna Park, Millersville, Pasadena, Edgewater and Annapolis.

Severna Park resident

Elaine Soderlund

paused on her way through the lobby with friend

Nancy Greene

of Annapolis, to admire the baskets, as did

Ann Dixon

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and

Audrey Striegel

, also both of Annapolis.

Margy Teixeira

, a supporter who's purchased many baskets, headed for the attractive display of wines where supporters

Robin Roberts

and

Tina Doordan

were already matching the numbers on their $20 auction tickets with those on the bottles to see what they'd won.

Among the most delighted luncheon guests were six Benevolent Baskets clients who were seated at different tables to share the meal as well as their stories. The clients were enrolled in Catholic Charities two-year transitional program to independent living at My Sister's Place in Baltimore of which Benevolent Baskets is a part.

They are women who fell through the cracks and found themselves without any means of support. Guided by Lerario and Geisel, they learned production techniques, sales, teamwork and how to interact with the public. Benevolent Baskets graduates have become productive members of the workforce.

Clients

Eileen Cotton

and

Otra Bryant

seemed quite proud of the "little industry" to which they devote several days a week.

"We learn every aspect of the business from administration to ordering product to making, marketing, selling, packaging and shipping the baskets throughout the country," Bryant said.

Cotton described the program while sharing a table with Pointfield Landing residents Swanson,

Michelle Allen

and

Christine Burchon

, Greene, and Pasadena resident

Evelyn Warren

. Noting that she has computer skills, Cotton said her duties at Benevolent Baskets include ordering, inventory and Internet sales.

The luncheon speaker was

Jan Martinez

, founder of Christ Kitchen in Spokane, Wash., a job-training organization similar to Benevolent Baskets. Author of the book "Christ Kitchen, Loving Women Out of Poverty," she revealed her story.

While working with the Indian Public Health Service on New Mexican reservations, she was the victim of a violent attack. Afterward, she slid into depression, drugs and poverty. Through spirituality and hard work, she recovered and dedicated her life to using her experiences in the "foreign country of poverty" to help others.

For details, visit

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