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Picnic honors prison volunteers

April 27, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • The Rev. Walter Sheppard Jr. of Baltimore Md., enjoys a picnic style lunch Saturday during the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services volunteers picnic held at Shafer Park in Boonsboro. Sheppard is the President of the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church in Baltimore and one Sunday a month his prison ministry comes to MCI in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Photographer

BOONSBORO, Md. — John Worgul doesn’t like to see fellow veterans get “kicked to the side,” even if they’re serving time in prison for criminal activity.

A veteran himself, Worgul volunteers to help other veterans who are inmates at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown, where he also works as a correctional officer.

Worgul was among dozens of volunteers saluted Saturday for their efforts by Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials at a picnic at Boonsboro’s Shafer Memorial Park.

Cindy Weyant, who recently was hired as the state director of volunteer programs, told the volunteers gathered that their support of the department’s mission was critical for operations.

Veonn Exline, volunteer coordinator at Roxbury Correctional Institution, credited the volunteer support for keeping some inmates from “crossing the line” and helping the prison maintain a level of security.

In nearly 24 years of volunteer efforts, Elder Leon E. Swanson of BEMA Outreach Ministries said the “successes” in trying to help inmates turn their life around keeps them going.

“We’ve seen families restored, men who had very bad behaviors behaving with proper discipline ... it’s hard, but it’s very rewarding,” Swanson said. “We’re committed to helping men regain their place in manhood.”

Loretta Sheppard, 77, is among a group of volunteers from Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church in Baltimore who have traveled to Washington County to minister to prisoners since 1996.

“We’ve been coming for so long, we’re like family,” Sheppard said. Her son, the Rev. Walter Sheppard Jr., leads the church’s prison ministry.

Sheppard said God’s grace kept him out of prison while friends and associates ended up behind bars.

Worgul said veterans sometimes return home from a military deployment with mindset of still having the “license to kill” and end up in trouble after abusing drugs to cope.

Given his own service in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Army reservist, Worgul said he has been able to establish a rapport with fellow veterans who often need assistance with veteran benefits

Barbara Allen, volunteer coordinator at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, said there is more of a current need for volunteers to lead activities such as yoga or educational needs such as teaching English to Spanish-speaking inmates than for religious groups.

Activities generally are geared toward longer-term inmates, Allen said.

The picnic Saturday came at the end of Volunteer Appreciation Week, Allen said.

Weyant said in an interview that she was hired to help recruit new volunteers and coordinate volunteer efforts statewide. The department has a goal to have 4,000 volunteers across the state, Weyant said.

Weyant told those gathered that the value of an hour of volunteer time in 2012 was about $22 nationally last year, citing research by Independent Sector, a coalition of charities, foundations, corporations and individuals.

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