But not Kyle Blackman. Though he'd been home less than 24 hours, Blackman showed up with a handful of other local student volunteers to spend a quiet but busy pre-Christmas weekday evening packing, sorting and handing out government surplus food at Towson United Methodist Church's emergency food pantry last week.
Now a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., Blackman became active as a volunteer when he was still a high school student at the Gilman School in Roland Park.
Blackman and the students were doing their volunteer work through a new state program called The Maryland Youth Action Corps, which promotes and organizes community service among high school students.
"I just enjoy giving back (to the community) so much," said Blackman, whose mother, Lu Ann Blackman, is a Maryland State Commissioner on Service and Volunteerism and was instrumental in creating the Maryland Youth Action Corps. "And you meet so many new people, nice people. It's just nice to get involved."
Like Kyle Blackman, the half-dozen or so high school students who also staffed the church food bank on the chilly evening Dec. 16 expressed a similar sense of satisfaction about their volunteerism. For them, the act of "giving back" feels far more like a reward than a sacrifice.
"Most of these students are here to accumulate community hours, but many have also formed strong bonds with each other and with the people they serve through their volunteerism," said Lu Ann Blackman, who is also a teacher at St. Paul's School for Girls and a cheerleading coach at Loch Raven High.
Maryland Youth Action Corps serves as a statewide clearinghouse and command central for recruiting, organizing and mobilizing high school-aged volunteers and finding projects for them at soup kitchens, camps for the blind, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Living Classroom program and The Kennedy Krieger Institute. MYAC volunteers also have worked on projects in conjunction with the Baltimore Ravens, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Johns Hopkins University.
"I think sometimes kids want to volunteer, but they don't know where to go or who to call," Lu Ann Blackman said.
"(But) once you get the kids to come out and volunteer, it's easy to get them to come out again," added Blackman, who is also a member of Towson United Methodist Church. "They form very strong bonds with each other and with the people they serve."
So it is with Maggie Kaplan, a 17-year-old student at Dulaney High. Though she was doing her first stint at the church's food pantry as a MYAC volunteer, she has long been an active volunteer and choir member at the church, which she and her family attend regularly. Lu Ann Blackman said that even before she left the food bank that night, Kaplan was asking when she could volunteer for the Youth Action Corps again.
"I think it's the people's reactions that I like the most," Kaplan said as she helped pantry clients pick out canned and prepared food items and packed them into shopping bags. "You do something little for them, and you think it won't matter, but they get really excited about it."
Alan Kines, 16, a Towson resident who attends Towson High, also expressed a deep sense of fulfillment. "It's just nice to be able to give back to the community and to some people who are not as lucky as some of us are," he said as he assisted food pantry clients, most of whom have lost jobs or spouses, suffered illnesses or experienced similar hard times during the holidays. "I never knew before I did this that there were people out there who have had such bad luck and have had to live through so much."
At 17, Tyler Kiddy, a Dulaney High student who lives in Baldwin, is already a veteran MYAC volunteer. He spent a week in the rural Appalachian region of Virginia last summer helping to rehab a home. "It was cool, because I'd never seen anybody that poor before."
Kiddy completed all the community service hours he needs for high school graduation quite a while ago. Still, he comes back for more.
"I'm doing this for fun, and to help Mrs. Blackman out," Kiddy said. "I just like helping people, and I like interacting with them."
Kathy Ritter, United Methodist Church's communications director and liaison for missions, said the MYAC student volunteers infuse the emergency food pantry operation with a new level of energy and enthusiasm.
"The students often take a special interest in a particular person, and they'll want to come back (from month to month) and see how they are doing and how things turned out for them," Ritter said as she searched for a can of sliced pineapples in the church's basement pantry, which was stacked floor to ceiling with about 70 cases of surplus canned and packaged vegetables, fruits, instant mash potatoes, beef stew, trail mix and similar food items donated by the U.S. government.
Sometimes the students fill special needs that would not otherwise be met.
"We had one woman who was deaf who would come in here, and we were able to find a student volunteer who could sign," Ritter recalled. "The two of them could talk and tell jokes. They had a great time."
Lu Ann Blackman said she already has lined up a variety of projects for Maryland Youth Action Corps in the coming year, including rebuilding a house in early spring in Waverly for Habitat for Humanity.
One of her newest efforts is to establish a network of high school athletic coaches across the state. She hopes the coaches will encourage their sports teams to enlist as MYAC volunteers.
"I want to get students to where they enjoy community service as much as they enjoy other things in their lives," Blackman explained. "For those who are on school teams, I want them to realize that their teams can reach out to other areas, like volunteerism.
"It's really all about the personal connections they make. Once they get out here and volunteer and discover they like it, they're hooked."
For more information on the Maryland Youth Action Corps, contact Lu Ann Blackman at 410-823-6323, Ext. 1113 or e-mail email@example.com. More information on MYAC is available online at www.state.md.us (scroll to "agencies" and click on "Governor's Commission on Service and Volunteerism"), or at www.co.ba.md.us (click on "volunteering").
E-mail Bob Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.