Teen-age volunteer and others to be honored for contributions


After walking from room to room at Liberty Recreation Center, Kellee Foster rattles off a few matters that need her attention:

A broken pool table. Walls that need paint. Shorts for the girls' basketball team.

"We wrote a proposal so we can get some money to get some things fixed, and we'll have a fund-raiser to get some more money. We're going to get things together here," says Kellee, 14, a tireless volunteer who heads the recreation center's youth council, helps with day care and does whatever else is needed.

Today, Kellee and more than 150 other volunteers will be honored at Hopkins Plaza in a celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation week. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will award them citations for their work to improve the city.

Kellee has volunteered at the northwest Baltimore center since she was 7. Now she works there at least four hours a day Monday through Saturday.

After the center closes, she takes a bus to her home on Gwynns Falls Parkway, often arriving as late as 10 p.m. -- just in time to begin her homework.

"That's just the values she has in her," said her mother, Sonya Jones. "I don't think she'd want it any other way."

For Kellee, the center is a place to sharpen her leadership skills. Sit down with her for 10 minutes and she'll get you to see things her way.

"I'm not going to take no for an answer when it comes to making things better or improving something," says Kellee, a small young woman with a stern voice and a no-nonsense stare. "It might take a lot of work, but I'll do it if that's what it takes."

That's been an effective strategy for the Garrison Middle School eighth-grader.

For example, she arranged a fund-raising party at the center and negotiated to hire the entertainment.

"She did everything for that, and she had to bargain with [disc jockeys] to get the best deal," said Doug Taggart, director at the center. "She typed it, she worked it up."

Perhaps her main accomplishment was adding activities for girls at the center. Before last summer, most of the programs were for boys. Now there is an equal number of coeducational or girls' teams; she's the basketball team captain.

Mr. Taggart, who has been the center's director for 10 years, said other youths view Kellee as a leader. "She has always been good when it comes to organizing people," he said. "People look and see what she's doing and then they want to do the same. She leads by example. She's a one-of-a-kind, take-charge type. She's a student awaiting a challenge." She also leads by example in school. An above-average student, Kellee is class monitor and leads the class in several exercises.

"Some of the things she does take the role of the teacher," said Gloria Roberts, Kellee's homeroom and social studies teacher. Each day, she volunteers to lead the class in a review of the previous day's lessons.

For high school, Kellee hopes to attend either Polytechnic Institute, Western or Lake Clifton to prepare for a career as a lawyer.

But for now, she's working hard at the center. Although the neighborhood is not drug-infested, there is drug activity on its fringes, and Kellee fears that some teens might get caught up in the fast life.

The center, she said, "is important because it give kids a place to go, so I want it to be as good as it can be. I want there always to be things for them to do and not have to be out on the corners."

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