Baltimore's new service officer to increase voluntarism

A new service officer has arrived in Baltimore to promote increased voluntarism addressing the city's most pressing social problems.

Vu Dang, 39, who was born in Vietnam and raised in Kentucky, will hold the grant-funded position, a project of the Cities of Service, an organization founded last year in New York City.

"Volunteering for me has been a transforming experience," he said Wednesday. "I would like to nurture a service movement for all Baltimoreans, young and old, of all ethnicities and walks of life."

Dang, who is living temporarily in Belair-Edison, is a graduate of the University of Houston and Harvard University. He had been executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Washington and had earlier worked for an initiative of President Jimmy Carter, the Carter Center. Dang said his family fled Vietnam's Communist government in 1975 and lived briefly in a refugee camp at Camp Pendleton in California.

But it was during his time in the Peace Corps that Dang had his most rewarding experiences. He taught English as a second language and worked to found a school for vulnerable children in Guinea in West Africa.

"The children grow up in families where there simply isn't enough money or hands. They are put to work without schooling," Dang said. "The young girls often got little or no education. They either never went to school or were taken out of school."

A statement issued by the city said that Baltimore learned in June that it was among a group of cities receiving a grant. The effort is called Cities of Service and was founded in New York City by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and 16 other member municipalities.

The new City Hall office is charged with matching volunteers to the areas of greatest need and then defining effective practices for services and voluntarism.

"To move the City forward, we need everyone to be involved," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in the statement. "Mr. Dang will ensure that people in every community participate in making Baltimore better, safer and stronger."

Dang, who began his job earlier this week, said he would have a strategy plan ready at the end of the year. At a later time, he envisions a formal launch of the volunteer effort and would engage in a media campaign about how and where individuals could get involved.

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