They'll roll out of bed before dawn to staff phone banks for telethons or to travel to West Virginia to help dig out a flood-damaged school. Their Saturday afternoons may be spent playing volleyball with teen-agers at a detention center, and their evenings, chatting up lonely patients at nursing homes.
They're the kind of aggressive, compassionate high school students who are helping spark a resurgence in the 1980s of interest in community service among young people, say teachers and administrators in Montgomery County.
Taking a cue from college campuses nationwide, "Volunteering is emerging among teen-agers as a thing to do" in high schools, says Mike Michaelson, the Montgomery school system's administrative assistant for student affairs.
"I just put out a buffet of activities, and they just go for it," said Tony Deliberti, teacher in charge of one widely popular, award-winning school service organization at Gaithersburg High School.
This fall, nearly two dozen community-oriented seniors from schools around the county are gathering weekly after school to talk about what it takes to inspire other students at a time when young people seem to be increasingly receptive. While some of the students said they were interested in politics, others said they had their eyes on other kinds of leadership-oriented callings, such as broadcast journalism or heading up a school basketball team.
"I would have loved to have had a chance to participate in something like this in high school," former Maryland representative Michael Barnes told the students at the leadership seminar in a guest lecture last week. "Statistically, you are very likely to be major leaders of this county or this country. The people I knew when I was in high school who were leaders have gone on almost invariably to be leaders in their lives.
"Certainly the quality of leadership can be spotted pretty early," he said. " . . . Leaders are ones who can take a concept and make it happen . . . . " When life hands them a bowl of lemons, Barnes said, natural leaders exclaim, "Wow! Lemonade."
Montgomery County Council member Bruce Adams said the seminars, organized initially for county students in 1984 and 1985 by the late Civil Service Commission chairman John W. Macy Jr., have been reinstituted to help show young people that the Jeffersonian "founding fathers model of leadership" in government is not the only way to go.
Red Cross chapters, chambers of commerce and civic associations need good leaders as much as governments do, he said: "It's a skill that most people lack and society doesn't adequately regard."
This fall, one laboratory for civic involvement for the students is planned around a county community service day Oct. 17, when officials and other county residents have pledged to perform such tasks as collecting roadside trash and planting trees.
Students at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring plan to help make repairs and do yard work at the home of a widowed teacher, said senior Howard Stregack, who said he applied for the leadership seminars because they "seemed intriguing."
Stregack says he also knows what he wants out of life: a career in the theater. "One thing I might want to do is direct, and leadership training could help," he said.
At Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, they're talking about offering to do housework at shelters and train to assist frail, elderly residents of the upper county, senior Melissa Leung said.
Magruder student Suzy Ottone said that among other activities, school volunteers in the past have collected clothing and blankets for indigent families, delivered hundreds of valentines to residents of the Asbury Methodist Home in their area and set up the first Network of Teens chapter in the county, to counteract the effects of interracial hate and violence.
Perhaps one-third of Gaithersburg High's 2,050 students are involved in some kind of community service such as helping handicapped youngsters ride horses, Principal Francis Masci said. The extent of the activity is in large part a tribute to the charisma of English teacher Deliberti and other teacher activists, he said.
How students find the time to volunteer "boggles the mind, with all they have to do academically to keep afloat," Masci said. "Two years ago the Key Club went to West Virginia" to help dig out a school that had been inundated in a flood. "In one day, they raised $2,000 worth of merchandise, clothes and money," he said.
"The thing that impresses me is that it's so widespread," Masci said of volunteer efforts among the young people. "They have so much to give, and they're so happy to do it. Some have the vision of teen-agers as inward-directed, grasping -- that they're taking all the time. I have been here four years, and it's been just the opposite: The kids are reaching out."
"These kids know that they are in one of the richest counties in the country," said Aggie Alvez, a law and history teacher at Rockville High School who helps out on the leadership seminars. "They have parents who were active in the '60s. They're seeing what has happened to the 'Me Generation,' where that led. They don't want to be part of it."
Some students may be interested in volunteering because it makes them look well-rounded in the eyes of college admissions offices, she said. but the majority "want to be out there helping other people."