Lazarus program teaches students confidence, community service
Leigh Kramer is learning that when it comes to leadership, it can be tough to get kids to play ball.
The 15-year-old rising junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School is running a baseball program at the Gwendolyn Coffield Community Center in Silver Spring for underprivileged children ages 9-12, along with fellow student Daniel Rossett. For a couple of hours five days a week, Kramer and Rossett try to teach the kids fundamentals on the field, keep the games organized, and teach their campers about sportsmanship. And the camp was only made possible after searching for equipment, signing agreements and other crucial background work.
"It literally is like starting your own business," Kramer said.
"It just enhances everything we've been able to do," said Ronald Martin, the Coffield Center's director who runs the summer camp there, of Kramer and Rossett's work.
The experience is just part of Kramer's work in the Lazarus Fellowship Program, which consists of 15 local high school students each year who run their own community service projects. The academically successful students dedicate 200 hours to their project beginning in mid-June, after getting advice from leaders in the community, such as rescue workers at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad and the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda.
Operating on a $350 grant, the students, often cooperating with other programs, learn what it's like to organize, lead and assess their own activities that they base on their own interests. Upon completion of the program in September, they can receive a $750 stipend or community service credit upon.
"You'll learn more about leadership by doing projects than by reading books," said Bruce Adams, the program's overseer and director of the county's Office of Community Partnerships.
The work can take the students overseas, or in the case of Brandon Levy, a 17-year-old rising senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, the project can concern the entire globe. After a summer of working at Bethesda Green, a nonprofit that encourages and informs residents in ways to reduce their carbon footprint, Levy decided to undertake a door-to-door informational campaign on ways to help the environment.
While he makes sure to recite key numbers, such as the 100 pounds of carbon dioxide a compact fluorescent light bulb can save over its lifetime, he's also honed his listening and speaking skills.
"One of the things they teach us is confidence," Levy said. "You really have to believe in yourself and believe in what you're selling in order for people to buy into it."
Some of the program involves scaling back initial hopes for projects. Levy said he's had difficulty finding people who will listen to his environmental pitch, and now hopes to talk to 80 homeowners instead of his initial goal of 100.
Khadija Carr, 16, a rising junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, initially wanted to teach hip-hop dance routines to middle school girls, but ended up having to create a dance program with second-graders at C.W. Harris Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Helping pre-adolescent girls keep journals about their experiences has been replaced by keeping kids focused.
"It's totally different," Carr said. "Second-graders are always like, I have to go to the bathroom' or I hurt my foot.' We just have to keep pushing them to do more."
Laura Valenstein, 16, a rising senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, had initially wanted to teach painting to young children but switched to working on art projects with residents of the Brooke Grove Retirement Village in Sandy Spring. While some of the work was initially difficult, she said some of the residents cried on her last day at the facility.
"I think I got a sense of leadership that I can now use in other things. I have confidence to do it now," she said.