Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007

Community Service Day draws dozens to Bethesda church

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Dozens traveled to the Church in Bethesda Saturday, not to pray, but to paint.

And mulch and rake leaves and help with whatever else was needed, as part of the county’s 21st annual Community Service Day.

The Bethesda event was one of more than 50 opportunities around the county for residents to lend a hand and help spruce up some of the county’s nonprofit groups Saturday.

The church, on Wilson Lane, is used by many community groups, including Bethesda Cares, a homeless outreach program. Bethesda Cares uses Adams Hall, a room in the church’s basement, to serve lunches to the homeless two weeks a month.

‘‘It’s great that we have an active community that wants to help, and that the Chamber [of Commerce] recognized how important Bethesda Cares is to the community,” said Teresa Maguire, board president of Bethesda Cares.

Some of the community’s youngest members volunteered Saturday not only to help their community, but also to help themselves.

‘‘We had to get service hours,” said Adonis Ciriaco, 11, of Silver Spring. ‘‘But we like to help people and make their lives better. It’s better with more people helping than just one.”

‘‘And you can get your hands sticky and redecorate the church to make it look cooler,” said Douglas Guevara, 11, of Silver Spring, his hands covered in white paint.

The hall, according to church pastor Todd Thomas, was in need of a facelift. The ceiling had water damage, the walls were painted black, and the room hadn’t been updated since it was built in the late 1950s.

‘‘It was basically years of constant use without a lot of upkeep,” Thomas said of the hall, which the church allows Bethesda Cares to use for free. ‘‘We’ve got some art lying around that we’re going to put up on the walls to try and make it a space you would want to eat in.”

Community Service Day began 21 years ago, as an opportunity for each community to work with neighbors and elected officials to better their surroundings, according to Robby Brewer, former president of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber picks a site in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area each year. Past sites have included Glen Echo Park and St. Luke’s House, a Bethesda group that provides mental health services.

‘‘It’s usually a social service organization that we pick,” Brewer said. ‘‘It’s a nice opportunity for everyone to clear their calendars, better their community and have fun, too.”

The Church in Bethesda is home to five different church groups, including West African and South American congregations, according to Thomas. The church also hosts a pre-school, a Spanish-language immersion school and Alcoholics Anonymous classes.

County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, who helped paint Adams Hall, said the Church in Bethesda was an ideal choice for Community Service Day.

‘‘This particular church exemplifies every thing that is good about Bethesda,” Berliner said. ‘‘It has so many different groups working together under one roof.”

Also Saturday, state Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist.16) of Bethesda and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) helped clean up the National Center for Children and Families, a Bethesda agency that helps homeless families and victims of domestic violence.