Every Friday, Georgetown University senior Rosemary Barbaret tutors inmates in the maximum security division of the District's correctional facility at Lorton--work, she says, that is not always easy or immediately rewarded.

Freshman Gigi Donald spends part of every each week tutoring ninth-grader Kim Butler at Terrell Junior High School, guiding him slowly through such works as Homer's "Odyssey." Donald is one of 38 Georgetown students who tutor Terrell students.

Barbaret and Donald are two of about 500 Georgetown students--nearly one of every 10 undergraduates--who regularly help District residents as volunteers in about 50 private and public programs.

They are members of the university's Community Action Coalition, a student-run group begun in 1975.

Don Ludemann, full-time coordinator of CAC for the past two years, said the students work primarily with people who are poor "financially, emotionally or spiritually." Some volunteer in legal aid clinics, others serve meals to the needy and many are tutors in public schools and in prisons.

None of the students are paid for their duties, and only about 12 will receive one course credit because their volunteer work is related to courses they are taking in ethics or theology, Ludemann said.

Yet CAC's membership has grown steadily since the program was established. It grew out of a decision by the students and the administration that the university needed to participate more in city life outside the university, Ludemann said.

"I started tutoring in the prisons out of curiosity, but I continued because there was a need for it," said Barbaret, who is studying Spanish and sociology.

But the work can be discouraging, she added. Sometimes the inmates have not done their homework because the noise of the prison distracts them, and only one of the 20 that she has tutored since September has passed the high-school-equivalency test that is given every six months.

When she started tutoring in reading, Barbaret said, she used poetry or the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. But after an inmate who also was teaching told her the men prefer to read about crime, politics and sports, newspapers have been the main reading material in her classes.

Tom Esselman, a senior in Georgetown's foreign service school, said he began tutoring at Lorton because he wanted an "eye-opening experience." Since starting in January, he has seen a side of prison life that those on the outside seldom are aware of, Esselman said.

Esselman said his work at Lorton continues to be rewarding. "Each week something new happens that lets me know what I'm doing is worthwhile," he said.

At an awards banquet at Lorton recently, inmates were honored for achievements in the prison's education and athletic programs. In a commons room decorated with lights, tables were covered with cloths and a stereo system lent by a guard provided music for a dinner of cold cuts. The affair seemed "no different than a high school dance," Barbaret said, with "people talking, people dressed up, people shy, others dancing."

CAC is funded by a $35,000 annual allotment from the university that pays Ludemann's salary, for vans to transport volunteers and for school supplies in the tutoring programs. In addition, the Marriott Corp. gives an annual grant that is earmarked to help students volunteer at So Others May Eat (SOME), a nonprofit soup kitchen and shelter.

About 35 CAC members live together on the first floor of Copley Hall dormitory on the university campus. The shared quarters, say some members, provide a psychologically and emotionally supportive atmosphere.

The convenience of Copley Hall's location in the middle of campus may encourage some students to apply for CAC who do not have the volunteer spirit, Ludemann said, but each applicant is screened by a committee made up of Ludemann, former residents of the special interest floor and resident assistants.

New programs often are added to the CAC by the initiative of one student, if that person can attract others to volunteer. However, as easily as a new program can start, it can end, especially if the student graduates without finding another to succeed him as coordinator of a program.

"Sometimes you just can't do everything," said Julia Esborg, a CAC cochairman. "By concentrating on the projects we already have, we can encourage new people to join.