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He's been like a father to many

February 25, 2002|By JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's Note: This is the final installment of a weeklong series during National Black History Month recognizing blacks in the area who make a difference in their communities.

Michael Darnell Shaffer is sporting a soft cast with a couple of pins in his left arm from a spill on the basketball court with "his kids."

The cast and broken arm didn't keep Shaffer from returning home Feb. 11, three days after the break occurred.

Home for Shaffer is the Boys and Girls Clubs of Washington County and his kids are the approximately 100 5- to 19-year-olds who show up after school weekdays to do homework, learn social skills and exert their energy - often on that basketball court.

"I like working with the kids. A lot of them I know from the neighborhood. I grew up with their parents," said Shaffer, who oversees the club's main site at 805 Pennsylvania Ave.

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Shaffer, 38, of Hagerstown, grew up as one of those kids when he was living in nearby public housing in the Park Place/Sumans Avenue neighborhood. When he became a teenager, his family moved to the more middle class Paramount Terrace and he didn't make it to the club as often.

Shaffer, whom everyone calls "Darnell," didn't take a direct route back to the club.

He was working in a warehouse when he joined a group of about 20 men who attended the Million Man March in Washington in 1995.

"That sparked something in me to try and make a difference to try and help out kids somehow," Shaffer said.

Shaffer went to work for the Victor Cullen Academy, a reform school for boys in Sabillasville, Md. He'd bring the youths to the Jonathan Street neighborhood, where they would do yard work and help the sick and elderly, Shaffer said.

Then, he found out about an opening at the Boys and Girls Clubs and returned to the club he belonged to as a youth about 20 years earlier.

"He was a leader in here then," said Jim Deaner, the clubs' executive director.

"He was very athletic. He was not only good on the basketball court, but was a good role model as a kid back then," Deaner said.

"He was a quiet guy. He didn't run around braggin' about how well he did everything. He just did to the best of his ability," Deaner said.

Despite Darnell's athletic skills, Deaner said the NBA was never his goal.

"I think he's done a lot better than most of the NBA players," Deaner said. "He's involved in everybody's life up here."

Shaffer helps many of the older kids register at Hagerstown Community College and apply for financial aid.

"He helped me go to school," said Michael Rodgers, 18, an HCC student and co-worker at the Boys and Girls Clubs.

"He's like a father to most of us," Rodgers said. "He helps us when we need help. When we have problems, he's the person to talk to."

Shaffer said he likes to be there for the kids. That includes walking into the gym during a basketball game so the kids can find him in the stands when "no one else was there for them that day."

"It's a good feeling. They know that I'll be there," Shaffer said.

His support isn't limited to weekdays.

The club opens every other Saturday night for teen dances, and Shaffer spends Sundays playing basketball with the club's teen volunteers.

Shaffer said he tries to take after the role models he had as a youth at the club. They were Deaner, Sonny Watson and Lawrence Freeman. Those men would take Shaffer and the other kids on fishing trips and get them involved in basketball, he said.

As for the difference he's made for the kids at the club now, Shaffer said he gets more credit than he deserves. His co-workers and teenage volunteers help.

"If you see me, you always see my teens as well," Shaffer said. "It's never just me. It's always the teens."

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