Cultural journey fills vacation with fun, food

August 20, 1997


Staff Writer

About 20 restless but inquisitive youngsters sat Wednesday in a lopsided semicircle around a guest speaker who told them that Finland has 188,888 lakes and 200-degree saunas.

The youngsters, ranging in age from 5 to 15, didn't seem to mind using summer vacation to learn about Finland, Sweden and nine other countries. In fact, they said they liked it so much they would do it again.

The Scandinavian session was the last of a 10-week summer program held this year by the Washington County Health Department Prevention Unit and Trans-Potomac Prevention Coalition.


An average of 30 Hagerstown youngsters gathered in the Asbury United Methodist Church on Jonathan Street for two hours each Wednesday to share stories, do arts and crafts, learn about international cultures and eat lots of food.

"We wanted to reach out to the community," said the Rev. Anthony Carr. "(The church) provides a safe place for the kids to be themselves and have fun."

Many youngsters said they returned each week because it kept them from sitting at home, bored.

"I like it because it's a nice place to go in the summer when there's nothing to do," said Amie Stoner, 10, of Henry Avenue. "You learn about people from different countries and that they do all the kinds of stuff that we do."

Young adopted a similar program from the Benevola United Methodist Church in Boonsboro and brought it to Hagerstown as an educational alternative to drugs.

"It gets us off the streets, and we play games and everything, and it's fun," said Virginia Burke, 10, of Bethune Avenue.

"It's a place where you can come so you don't get in trouble," said Burke's neighbor, Mark Spencer, 15.

Burke and her 5-year-old sister Tiffany joined in the festivities Wednesday, weaving yellow and gray yarn into smiling palm-length trolls and tasting the Swedish meatballs in celebration of Scandinavia week.

Tony Weedon, 10, of Bethune Avenue, said he will give his yarn troll - a lucky charm in Finnish legend - to his grandmother.

"He looks like he's going to give me good luck," he said.

Young said she enlisted help from several mothers, Washington County Health Department colleagues and friends to make the program's second year possible.

"The kids in this area kind of have a special place in your heart. They're very grateful, very thankful just to come down here and have something to do," said Alissa Hipple, 24, a county health department prevention specialist who works with youngsters throughout the year.

Natasha Wheeler, 12, found time to lend a hand. "I help the kids in the kitchen. I help them play games. And I make sure their voices are down," she said.

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