When Orlando Yarborough was asked to work with abused children through Parents Anonymous of Maryland two years ago, he tried as hard as he could to turn down the request.
"I kept on saying, 'Where am I going to find the time?'" Mr. Yarborough recalled.
But as he helped kick off the third annual Parents Anonymous Safe-at-Home fund-raising campaign yesterday afternoon and began his third year as a volunteer, the Essex resident made an impassioned appeal for help for thousands of Maryland victims of child abuse.
"We can make a difference," said Mr. Yarborough, who will be working with children at Sandalwood Elementary School in the fall. "I have seen so much anger from these kids. If we don't help them, they will tear up our neighborhoods."
During a news conference behind home plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Mr. Yarborough joined Parents Anonymous, the Baltimore Orioles and several local business executives to announce the beginning of a monthlong effort to raise more than $60,000 for the nonprofit group and increase awareness of the problem of child abuse.
The statistics are startling, said Elaine R. Fisher, executive director of Parents Anonymous. The state conducted almost 11,000 investigations into allegations of child abuse and neglect in 1992, but because so many cases go unreported, the total of abused children in Maryland is believed to be more than six times that number.
Parents Anonymous works with parents, teens and younger children in homes and schools to provide emotional support for abusers as well as victims and try to prevent abuse in at-risk families. The group also operates a 24-hour statewide Parent StressLine -- 243-7337.
As part of the fund-raising campaign, Rite Aid Pharmacies will accept $1 donations to Parents Anonymous for a chance to win a pair of tickets and transportation to a World Series game. The winner of the drawing will be announced at the Aug. 27 Orioles home game, and players' wives will conduct a telethon during that game to collect more donations.
Recalling how he tried to avoid becoming a volunteer, Mr. Yarborough said he agreed to visit an elementary school one day to pacify the friend trying to persuade him to join the effort.
"I went, and I had no intention of coming back," the owner of the Body Mechanics Fitness Center in Essex said. "When I was leaving, one kid hugged me and said, 'You are different from everybody else.'" As Mr. Yarborough spoke yesterday, four children he works with were clinging to him.
"But I wasn't different," he said. "I was trying to find a way not to come back just like everybody else. I went back one more time, and then I was hooked."