BOSTON, Mass. — There are some things that span cultures around the world, such as the spirit of volunteering. Other things, such as baseball, don’t.
For Thando Dlamini of South Africa and Suki Chau of Hong Kong, who are both exchange students at Thornton Academy in Saco, the familiar and the unfamiliar intersected Tuesday at Fenway Park. Both came to America with a strong penchant for volunteering and with little understanding of baseball.
“Someone told me it’s a lot like softball,” said Dlamini, standing on Yawkey Way outside the 100-year-old ballpark. “We’ve both played softball, but this is the first baseball game for both of us.”
Dlamini and Chau were among a group of about 20 high school students from Maine who enjoyed VIP treatment Tuesday as the Boston Red Sox faced the Detroit Tigers. Each student is part of a Volunteers of America Action Team, tackling projects ranging from socializing senior citizens to brightening the lives of homeless veterans.
Dlamini, who said she hopes to someday open an orphanage, said joining her school’s action team was a natural extension of the way she lived her life in South Africa.
“Helping people is what I like to do,” she said. “I don’t need anything; I have what I have. Volunteering is about helping other people who are underprivileged.”
Glenn Michaels, a spokesman for Volunteers of America, Northern New England, who accompanied the students on the trip to Fenway, said he would like to see other Maine high schools create action teams. He said the values the program instills in its participants are as impressive as the projects done in the community.
“The whole idea behind designing this program was to develop the next set of volunteers,” said Michaels. “They don’t do it because it looks good on a resume. It’s the type of thing that when you do it you feel good about it and you want to do more of it.”
Michaels said research shows a strong correlation between a person’s volunteer activity early in life and the kind of citizen he or she becomes as an adult.
“They tend to volunteer more and give more money,” he said.
Students from Morse High School in Bath, Thornton Academy in Saco and Poland Regional High School went on the all-expenses-paid trip and were treated to a tour of the field, a meal and transportation.
The action teams have been in place in Maine for about six years. While Volunteers of America administers them, they are supported by the Major League Baseball Players Trust, which funded most of Tuesday’s trip to Fenway. The program also is supported by local business sponsors, including Moody’s Collision Centers.
Among the projects undertaken by action teams this year were a series of interviews with military veterans which were condensed in a book, a project that involved bringing senior citizens to dinner and a play, and all manner of fundraisers.
“What they realize is that but for the grace of God, their lives could change overnight,” said Michaels. “They realize, ‘That could have been me.’ For most people in these situations it’s an unlucky break. It could happen to anyone.”
Nate Strout, a senior from Poland Regional High School in his second year on an action team, agreed.
“If you need help someday, you’re going to want someone to be there for you,” he said. “When you’re young and able, why not help someone else who doesn’t have the ability to do something for themselves? It could be as simple as just talking to someone. They want to know that there’s someone out there and that someone cares.”