Stronger Together: Families Team Up for ‘Caw to Action’ Day of Service in Baltimore

Caw to Action Curtis Bay Elementary
First graders at Curtis Bay Elementary volunteer alongside community members to plant seeds for a new community garden. | Photo: United Way of Central Maryland


On Monday, Oct. 18, about 20 first graders planted seeds in freshly built plant beds for a new community garden at Curtis Bay Elementary School.

Community volunteers saw five or six students huddled at each of the 8-foot by 4-foot beds, one of them excitedly exclaiming, “When do we water?”

The southern Baltimore City school sits in a food desert, which means students and their families don’t have access locally to fresh fruits and vegetables, says Beth Littrell, director of community engagement and volunteerism at United Way of Central Maryland.

But now those nutritious options will be right outside their door—and they can take some home too, she says.

The community garden project was one of many taking place during United Way’s “Caw to Action” day of service, in partnership with the Baltimore Ravens, which requested the help of volunteers for 11 in-person and 63 total projects.

Throughout the month of October, 18,500 volunteers, including 38 schools, participated across the country, but the projects were predominantly completed in the greater Baltimore area.

Through these opportunities, families were able to experience the benefits of volunteering together.

Stronger Together

Among the volunteers at Curtis Bay were Donna Wright-Bieber and her teenage son.

After recently answering another call to action through the NFL and seeing how grateful community members were to have help, Wright-Bieber had been inspired to do another one—this time with her son Shaun Bieber, a 16-year-old at Old Mill High School in Anne Arundel County.

Volunteering together was not new for them.

Donna Wright-Bieber and her son Shaun volunteering
Donna Wright-Bieber and her son Shaun deliver thank-you bags to health care workers from Lighthouse Church in Glen Burnie. | Provided Photo

Wright-Bieber used to be an active member of the Parent Teacher Association while her boys—now 23, 20 and 16—were in school. They’d been helping her with those activities since they were in kindergarten.

“He’s been stuffing CDs since he was 4 years old,” she says of Shaun, referring to a packaging activity they used to do together.

When she asked him about volunteering for Curtis Bay, it was a no-brainer for him, she says.

It’s something she’s always tried to teach her boys. Whenever they would go to fall festivals at school, she would also encourage them to work one of the games for a half hour to an hour.

“I kind of wanted to instill in my kids early on that whatever fortunes you have you should share” because someday they might be in a position when they need help, she says.

“She was kind of like the role model,” Shaun says, adding that she taught him how he can always find time to do good for other people. He also always appreciated meeting new people in new environments when volunteering.

Volunteering is even more special when they’re able to do it together, Wright-Bieber says. As a divorced parent, it was a way she could always connect with and bond with her boys.

Amanda Malanowski of Millersville also sees the value of volunteering as a family.

Her children Marcy (10), Joey (8) and Grace (4) completed one of the virtual opportunities—putting care kits together for veterans.

“It really helps build different skills with our kids,” she says, noting that it was fun to get their brains moving in how to lead the activity and organize the materials in an assembly line.

They were also able to pick which kit they wanted to do. They liked the kits for veterans because they included fidget spinners, Malanowski jokes, but also because they as a family knew people in the service and wanted to give back.

Malanowski’s family has often served together.

Malanowski family volunteer feature caw to action
The Malanowski family | Provided Photo

Doing so helps her children build confidence to see a problem and figure out a way to help fix it, she says.

“We try and take on different things each year, especially around the holidays,” she says. Their activities have included sponsoring a family, contributing to angel trees or making care kits for children in hospitals.

“Even if it’s a small thing, those small things add up into big things. And we just really like being a part of it and bringing joy to other people,” she says.

Malanowski also grabbed some kits for her scouts—Girl Scouts of Central Maryland Troop 1644, and Baltimore Area Council Cub Scout Pack 918, which her husband, Joe, leads.

These groups did about 40 kits each for the homeless and military, plus some kits for virtual learners. Each of the kits include items geared toward needs—such as brushes, soap and shampoo or headphones, notebooks and stress balls.

They also got some boxes of kindness rocks to distribute throughout the community

“Usually we try and hide ’em,” Malanowski says. Her children and the Scouts fill them with nice messages and drop them in stores or along the trail—“wherever people are gonna see them and kind of smile when they go by.”

Doing these activities was a natural step for her Scouts, she says.

“That’s really baked into scouting in general—that we need to take a step back, look at our community and see where there might be problems and how we can be kind of proactive with our service,” she adds.

Donna Wright-Bieber and Shaun Bieber Curtis Bay
Left to right: Baltimore Ravens player Brandon Stephens, Shaun Bieber, Donna Wright-Bieber and Ravens player Khalil Dorsey at Curtis Bay Elementary School | Provided Photo


Why volunteer?

Malanowski says it’s easy to find areas of need and volunteering is worth doing with your children because of what it builds in them—empathy for the needs of those around them, confidence in offering solutions to those needs and leadership in completing the task.

“They’re excited, and they’re proud when they’re done,” she says. “I think it can give a lot to your family and your kids.”

Wright-Bieber adds that online opportunities are very versatile. You can find one that lasts an hour or four hours—whatever works for you. School parent associations are another great resource for adults, and Shaun adds that students can start by finding opportunities through faculty.

“Your kids will notice, and most likely they will mimic that as well,” Wright-Bieber says. “When they saw me in action, then it was something they wanted to do too.”

Instilling in students good values of community service is also important at Curtis Bay, says Principal Mark Bongiovanni.

The school has a kindness pledge. Anytime he can have that behavior modeled for students and give them a chance to participate in it as well—as with the Day of Service—it’s beneficial for them, he says.

“We like to make sure that anything we’re doing that they take a part in,” he says.

About Lindsay VanAsdalan

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