Early Friday morning, the grounds of Aberdeen High School were a flurry of activity. The entrance to the school was lined with pots of pretty plants ready to be set in the ground, while volunteers in bright green shirts were busy pulling up weeds, spraying down concrete and otherwise getting their hands dirty all around the school.
Those volunteers were employees of the neighboring Ripken Baseball, which started a program this year called R.O.C.S., for Ripken Outreach & Community Service, to enable the company to give a helping hand for a different cause every month.
Ripken Baseball owns the Aberdeen IronBirds and Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets minor league baseball teams and runs baseball schools and clinics in Aberdeen and around the world.
This month, R.O.C.S. volunteers descended on Aberdeen High, working together with teams of students who had signed up for the project as a way to get their mandatory community service hours.
The Ripken staff and Aberdeen students spent the morning removing fencing around a generator near the school's sports fields, power-cleaning the outdoor cafeteria area and planting colorful flowers there, putting shrubs and plants along the school's entrance, relocating a Dumpster to a less prominent location, picking up trash and pulling up weeds.
First-year principal Michael O'Brien, in a green R.O.C.S. shirt, stayed busy coordinating students and making sure the seven work stations ran smoothly.
O'Brien said he hopes to make the beautification project a biannual effort. He said working with the Ripken staff was inspiring.
"They have just been fantastic," he said. "There is so much love for this school and this community."
O'Brien said the R.O.C.S project has also encouraged students to take a more personal interest in their school building and grounds.
"I think it really brings the pride to the kids," the principal said. "We hope to pick a different part of the campus [twice a year] and do a little TLC."
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett was also at the school volunteering and talked eagerly about the city's relationship with Ripken Baseball, noting the company is also working on a new field at the local Boys & Girls Club.
"We are just very excited to have everybody out here," Bennett said. "This has been in the planning stages for a number of months."
The City of Aberdeen contributed some public works employees to help run the project, as well as some materials and rakes and shovels. McDonald's and Wawa provided the Ripken staff with breakfast.
Aberdeen High has been getting a lot of community attention lately. Bennett said a local church congregation was out just last weekend also helping to clean up the school.
"Every little thing we do like that helps the city shine a little brighter," he said.
Ripken Baseball human resources manager Rachel Fink, who helps oversee the R.O.C.S. program, said the company has a lot of younger people who are eager to do community service initiatives.
"Sometimes you just forget about giving back," Fink said. "There's so many things you can do in the community."
One of those enthusiastic volunteers was Caroline Kogler, an account representative for the IronBirds, who was helping pull up weeds from the sidewalk.
"It's good to be able to give back to the community that's given so much to us," Kogler said, adding her co-workers were glad for "any way we can get out and make the school look better and give it that spring vibe, and be able to work right alongside [the students]."
Fink said other R.O.C.S. projects included adopting a local family that was showered with presents in December, sponsoring a team for the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, raising funds to buy shoes for children in Kenya and doing a "Stay In School" rally for a school in Baltimore.
Next month, Ripken Baseball will partner with the Baltimore-based Casey Cares Foundation for critically ill children to help them enjoy a game at the stadium, Fink said.