Dressed in a baseball cap, army pants, long-sleeve T-shirt and gloves, 7-year-old Zachary Deming was hard at work raking leaves at Centennial Park in Ellicott City. A member of Cub Scout Pack 361, the first-grader at Centennial Lane Elementary School enjoyed the time he spent Saturday at the park, despite the cool temperatures.
"I participated this morning because it's fun," Zachary said. "I really like helping out the park."
His mother, Sandy, agreed.
"A park cleanup really brings the community together," said the Ellicott City resident. "It's really important to give back to a community which gives so much to us. We've spent countless hours in the park, and I'm happy to help out."
The Demings, along with about 325 other people, participated in the Howard County Department of Recreation and Park's eighth Family Volunteer Day, a program sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation. About 75 of the volunteers raked leaves alongside the Demings at Centennial Park, while the others took on similar projects at seven other Howard County recreational areas, including Cedar Lane Park, Cypress Meade Park, Patapsco Female Institute, Patuxent Branch Trail, Savage, Schooley Mill Park and West Friendship Park.
The program was designed to clean up and beautify parks and historic sites and to teach children the importance of community service and to encourage it at an early age.
"We were looking to do something to bring the community together and to give back at the same time," said Ann Combs, volunteer coordinator for the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Other members of the troop had similar feelings about the day. Kevin Lehr, a seventh-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School, has been participating in the event for five years.
"I like cleaning up the community," he said. "The cold doesn't scare me. I'm used to it."
In addition to Pack 361, several other groups and individuals took part in the event at Centennial Park. However, the cold temperatures likely kept some volunteers away, Combs said.
The Moms Group of East Columbia participated in Family Volunteer Day for the first time. Children as young as Dara Glenn's son, Eli, 18 months old, took part.
"There are a lot of new moms who are probably scared their kids might get sick," said Glenn, the club's administrative vice president. "I'm still having a lot of fun and am glad we signed up. It is definitely something that I hope we do again next year."
John O'Rourke, a Howard Community College student, joined the Moms Club in the park cleanup.
"It really brings the community together to help keep parks clean," he said. "I'm enjoying helping to put the parks to rest for the winter."
Several school groups participated, including Centennial High School's Environmental Club and the National Honor Society chapters from River Hill and Mount Hebron high schools.
"Service is really important," said Angela Maupin, a Centennial sophomore. "This was a great opportunity to help the environment."
"It's good to give back to the community," said Edward Yu, a River Hill junior. "NHS is all about that. It's a good experience for everyone."
"This event really helps people connect to the parks in the area and gives them a sense of stewardship and appreciation for parks," said John Byrd, chief of the Bureau of Parks and Program Services for the Department of Recreation and Parks.