As a hawk drifted in graceful loops overhead, Chase Elementary School fifth-grader Shalyn Getz dipped a shovel into the mud and lowered a tiny oak sapling into the hole left behind.
"I like planting trees," Shalyn said yesterday. Through such volunteer activities, "you see what a difference it makes."
That's exactly the spirit Baltimore County hoped to instill as it launched its third annual "Pitch In for Progress" weekend, a series of 200 projects expected to attract thousands of volunteers.
"Residents, students, community associations and county employees are galvanizing to make a difference," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger at yesterday's Chase Elementary event.
Ruppersberger accompanied 100 Chase fourth- and fifth-graders in planting what will one day be a forest along recently purchased parkland bordering the Chesapeake Bay tributary of Saltpeter Creek.
The county's volunteer weekend was launched in 1997 in response to a national call to action from Gen. Colin L. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This year's events include assembling and organizing a new school library at the Campfield Early Childhood Center and cleaning trash from Herring Run stream along Overbrook Road.
For the first time, the county has established a Web site (www.volunteerbco.org) to sustain the volunteer spirit beyond the weekend. Officials hope residents will seek out long-term commitments, such as serving as a nursing home ombudsman with the Department of Aging or a mentor for a neglected or abused child through the Department of Social Services.
"If the Web site helps one teen-ager connect with a mentor who will get him on the right path, it will have succeeded," said Jay Doyle, who is coordinating the volunteer activities.
At Chase Elementary, pupils and members of the Civic Works, a federally sponsored service program, were planting more than 600 trees on 6 acres that had previously served as farmland.
The school emphasizes community service and compassion under a state-sponsored program that gives the school $170,000 a year.
"It develops good self-esteem," said assistant principal Sharon Whitlock. "And it develops a sense of being part of the community."