Martial Arts Students Help Local Foster Teens
The students will present gifts to the teens at a party being held at the Boys and Girls Club on South Villa Avenue on Dec.12.
Joe Van Deuren, owner of the Balanced Life Skills studio, knows that martial arts are all about self-defense. It's just that he's broadened the definition of self-defense to include a wide variety of assaults, not only the physical ones.
That's the hallmark of his martial arts business on Gibralter Avenue in Annapolis, a studio that offers classes to kids and adults. He teaches that self-defense is more than kicking and punching; it includes anger management, healthy eating and environmental protection.
Helping others also plays into the self-defense equation, so Van Deuren makes sure that community service is an integral part of his program. For each belt test, students must participate in some community service activity.
"We teach that what you learn on the mat, you have to take with you out into the world," says Van Deuren. "We have a responsibility to help those who can't help themselves at this particular moment in time."
No one buys into this philosophy more than he does, demonstrated by project after project that Van Deuren brings to his students to foster their development as compassionate global and local citizens. In the past few years, he and his students have collected shoes for distribution to Kenyan children, held birthday parties in which partygoers brought donations for charitable organizations rather than presents, prepared lunches at the Light House shelter and participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to help end teen suicide.
This season, for the fourth year, Van Deuren and his students will do their part to make the holidays a happy occasion for Anne Arundel County's 155 foster children. In previous years, students at Balanced Life Skills helped the Junior League of Annapolis (JLA) wrap donated presents for the foster kids. The JLA had been spending many hours wrapping, but when Van Deuren got involved and rented a ballroom at the Sheraton Annapolis Hotel, so many students helped out that they finished the task in about an hour.
This year, the JLA has moved on to other projects, so Van Deuren and the Indian Creek School have taken on the enterprise as their own. Indian Creek is taking care of presents for younger foster children, while Van Deuren and his students are soliciting help in obtaining gift cards to local restaurants, movie theaters or department stores for the foster teens.
Gift cards are particularly good for the older kids — especially those living in group homes, says Janet Butts, an employee of the county's Department of Social Services who assists foster kids and adoptive families.
"Many of the teens have restrictions as to what they can have in group homes ... gift cards are especially helpful so the social worker can take them out and let them pick out something they want," she notes.
"Van Dueren has taken on the hardest task of all," says Butts, getting donations of gift cards for the teens. "I understand that folks are reluctant to just turn over a gift card but, believe me, every last one will go to a teen in foster care."
The students will still wrap the presents in the studio for the younger foster kids. The presents for the younger kids, along with the gift cards for the 110 foster teens, will be handed out at a Dec. 12 holiday party for the kids.
"They are going to have a party for the kids in the Boys and Girls Club," says Van Deuren. "That's when they will get their presents. Knowing that someone cares about them is pretty exciting."
In the martial arts studio, a sizable, decorated canister sits on the reception-area counter, epitomizing the generous spirit of Van Deuren and his students. The brainchild of a 6-year-old student at the studio and his mom, the container is so weighted with coins that it takes two hands and a hefty grunt to lift it. One struggling family, identified by the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, will receive all the coins — likely to be a few hundred dollars — in time for the holidays.
It's just one more example of the martial-arts students demonstrating Van Dueren's expansive meaning of self-defense.
Anyone who would like to donate a gift card appropriate for a teenager can drop off the card at the Balanced Life Skills studio at 133 Gibralter Ave., Suite 135, Annapolis, MD 21401 or mail it to the same address. Families potentially interested in fostering older children should call 410-897-3950.