BALTIMORE – For 16-year-old Brandon, this Thanksgiving will be a time to do something he has never done before — help others.
Brandon will take a break from his 90-day sentence at a drug rehabilitation center for boys to spend Thanksgiving week preparing baskets of food for the needy and serving homeless people at the Baltimore Convention Center.
“I think it would be good for me. I had never done anything like that,” said Brandon, who said he has two thick folders detailing his years of delinquency.
That realization — that giving through a week of voluntary community service events during Thanksgiving week can be the path toward rehabilitation — is just what supervisors at the William Donald Schaefer House aim to teach the young men who are committed there on drug charges.
“They love it, they get that feeling of helping and being needed,” said Schaefer House superintendent Martin Callum.
For the past seven years, Schaefer House residents have been feeding the homeless at the Baltimore Convention Center, and helping the Heritage United Church of Christ prepare food baskets for the needy, Callum said. On Thanksgiving Day, the boys and their families have dinner at the church with a men’s fellowship group that cooks for them.
And Schaefer House is not alone. Many caretakers at juvenile facilities “bend over backwards” to let their kids celebrate the holidays, said James McComb, director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth.
They want kids to spend time with their families or get out of the facility and enjoy a good meal. McComb, for example, arranged for young residents at a Prince George’s County psychiatric treatment center where he used to work, to have dinner at the Rod ‘n’ Reel Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach. It is an effort to make the holiday different from an ordinary day.
“They try to make it as special as they can,” McComb said.
The youths at Schaefer House, aged 14-18, have been arrested of offenses ranging from drug trafficking to drug abuse. Because their crimes are non-violent, however, judges have committed the youth to a 90-day program for treatment and rehabilitation instead of jail.
Callum said the Schaefer program educates its boys about drug abuse, but also instills the values of being a productive part of their community. Community service enhances the self-esteem and self-worth of the boys, most of whom have never taken an active role in something positive, he said, and it counters the negative stigma surrounding the boys in the program.
“We want to show them that these kids can do things positive,” he said.
Ed Richardson said his men’s fellowship group at Heritage United Church of Christ progressed from monthly breakfasts with the young men at Schaefer House who need mentors, to preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the youths and their parents. Not only do they appreciate the dinner, but Richardson said some boys have told him it was the first time they had ever had a meal as a family before.
“We believe no child should be left behind, if we can help,” Richardson, a retired high school principal said.
Edward, 18, appreciates the effort to make the holidays special and the chance to give back.
A drug user since he was 13, Edward said he served homeless people once before, because it was mandatory at the previous juvenile home where he stayed. The experience “made me realize if I keep doing what I’m doing I could wind up in the same place as them,” he said.
Serving homeless people at the convention center Wednesday will remind him to stay focused and continue his progress toward rehabilitation, he said.
And then he will enjoy a good Thanksgiving meal with good friends. Edward is not sure if his family will be able to join him at the church — but that’s OK.
“The people in the Schaefer House is my family while I’m here . . . so I’m still spending the holidays with somebody,” he said.
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