Somebody forgot to tell Kent and Carmen Amos that Thanksgiving is just one day long. The Amoses give thanks by offering what they have to others every day of the year.
Perhaps it's because Kent Amos, a 40-year-old Xerox executive, believes that "the measure of success is not how far you go in a job or how many material possessions you have, but how much you help your own people."
That helps explain why four nights a week for nearly four years, Amos and his wife have turned their home into a study hall for 20 students from Calvin Coolidge High School.
The Amos home is a stately $300,000 three-story town house in the exclusive Chatsworth neighborhood on the east side of Rock Creek Park. Each student who comes through the door gets a dose of love, a scolding when necessary and praise when it's deserved. Any teen-ager with a problem can talk to Kent Amos behind closed doors in the library.
"Our major objective is not to turn out Rhodes Scholars, but to help their parents develop positive, visionary young people," said Kent Amos, a native Washingtonian who is a graduate of Coolidge. "We want to develop young people who can see a better life for themselves and their people; good young people with an attitude of success."
The students, most of whom are athletes and cheerleaders, eat dinner at the house (the Amoses pay for almost half of the food) and they sometimes throw parties and spend the weekend. Seniors who are doing well in school can even borrow one of the family's two Mercedes.
The students have most of the same privileges the Amoses give their 14-year-old daughter, Debbie, and their 19-year-old son, Wesley, who is a sophomore at Delaware State College.
What each student also gets is some of Kent Amos' homespun philosophy. "We teach them values as much as anything else," said Amos, who in 14 years with Xerox has worked his way up from sales representative to director of corporate urban affairs.
"We teach them their home is fine," he added. "Although people say 'the ghetto,' we call them 'homes,' 'residences.' We teach them their parents are the most important people in their lives."
Carmen Amos, who is a Xerox customer service representative, says little about what she and her husband do. "My side is very private. It is done from my heart," she said, adding, "Kent's comes from his heart, too, but he likes to talk about it because he tries to encourage others to do things like this, too."
The students arrive about 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, most of them coming in the van or the station wagon that Xerox donated to the school. Students immediately begin doing their homework in a makeshift study hall, a living room with hardwood floors and a 15-foot ceiling, which is stripped of furniture except for five card tables and some folding chairs.
About 7 p.m., they gather to eat a dinner prepared by the school's home economics department. Xerox helps pay for the food and the Amoses chip in $300 monthly. Last year, the Amoses paid $700 a month to feed the bunch. The couple still supplies paper plates, napkins and juice and ice cream and cake whenever someone has a birthday.
To accommodate the teen-agers, the Amoses built a second pantry to hold cases of juice and snacks, purchased an extra refrigerator to store sandwich fixings and stocked a large bookcase with school supplies. They also had a sophisticated stereo system installed.
The study group started when Wesley Amos, then a Coolidge basketball player, brought teammates home regularly. Eventually some of the students started doing homework at the house and the idea for a study hall evolved.
Now the students study in splendor, in a house decorated with original oil paintings and expensive Oriental rugs. The teen-agers use a top-of-the-line personal computer and choose their entertainment from a collection of more than 300 videotapes -- when everybody's homework is finished.
Kent Amos credits his parents (his father was a lawyer, his mother a teacher), his grandparents and his college with helping him become a success. His way of saying thanks is by giving to others.
"Delaware State College, particularly, gave me an opportunity to focus on what 'quality of life' really means," he explained. "It was a small, rural, black college and a lot of my classmates came from impoverished backgrounds, but they cared for other people and they cared particularly about black people. I was there when 'black and proud' became buzz words."
The Amoses chose to help in education, Kent Amos said, because "ninety percent of the battle is having the right attitude. Everyone has talent," he said.
Amos mixes the "right attitude" approach with some firm rules. "When we get here we go straight to work," said Andre Jackson, a 17-year-old basketball player. "If you don't have any homework, he makes you read the paper."
"If I went home I'd check with my mother and go out and hang with the boys," admitted Carl Weldon, 17, another basketball player.
"I do my homework here because I see other people doing theirs," said Tashia Alexander, the 18-year-old captain of the cheerleaders, who added: "Mr. Amos has taught me a lot. I used to be scared to ask questions. He told me asking questions is how you learn. I never met anyone like him before. He has confidence in everybody."
The students leave the Amos home at about 9:30 p.m. But once an "Amos kid," always one; students call after they've gone on to college. Last week Amos got a call from Adrian Branch, a star basketball player at the University of Maryland who used to be an "Amos kid."
"You going to this class you're supposed to be going to -- regularly?" Amos asked Branch. "Remember, your goal is to graduate in '85."
Sometimes advice and love hasn't paid off, and what Amos has to call upon is faith. "One young man from the group is in Lorton now," he said. "We won't desert him. I went to court with him before, and when he gets out we'll help him again. He's working on his GED graduate equivalency degree , and that is something we're proud of.
"What we try to do by using our home is say, 'Just because we have this kind of home doesn't mean we can't share it with you,' " Amos explained. "All of these things," he said, sweeping his hand around the library, "are simply material goods. We bought them once, and if they get messed up we'll buy them again."