The legacy of Generation X, if Paget Rhee and her staff at Calvary Baptist Church are any indication, will be more than MTV, pierced body parts and the acquisition of high-tech stock options.
And Exhibit A will be Calvary's youth ministry--a dynamic combination of efficiency and spiritual commitment that is drawing nearly 800 young volunteers from across the country each year to assist programs serving 800 children.
Since becoming director of youth activities at the historic Northwest Washington church four years ago, Rhee, 32, has expanded or inaugurated such services as afternoon tutoring, recreation and mentoring during the school year, monthly dances, basketball coaching, four summer day camps and a summer overnight camp.
She also developed Urban Hands, which trains volunteers from other churches to help with city youth programs and, in the process, generates enough revenue to cover 80 percent of the $130,000 needed to run Calvary's youth ministry.
In addition, Rhee supervises 15 "summer missionaries," who are paid $100 a month to spend their school vacation helping run Calvary's summer programs. Seven of the missionaries, some of whom are from out of state, live with Rhee, her husband, Robert, and their 16-month-old daughter in a church-owned house in Arlington.
"She's like a juggler keeping several balls in the air," said Calvary's pastor, the Rev. Lynn Bergfalk. Besides being "incredibly gifted in networking and attracting resources, she channels her energies to meet the needs of others."
Last month, Calvary's youth ministry was one of five city programs honored at Washington National Cathedral's annual D.C. State Day ceremony for offering model summer youth activities. The award came with a $2,000 grant.
"We love what we do," said Rhee, a gregarious woman with auburn hair, abundant freckles and heavily lacquered nails. "But it's not for everybody. You can't say I'm leaving at 5 o'clock."
One of her greatest satisfactions is helping young people "who can't think past tomorrow" to broaden their horizons, she said. "Getting my kids to dream, it's the hardest thing. But when they do it, it just opens up a new world."
Growing up in Lancaster, Pa., Rhee became a born-again Christian at 16 and was influenced by her parents, who took in troubled foster children.
"I just saw how little it took to offer hope," she said.
Rhee, whose salary is less than $30,000, rejects the notion that everyone in her generation is too materialistic to be interested in spiritual matters. "There are many people in Generation X who are very controlled by materialism," she said. "But I know there is a portion of that generation which is very committed to reaching out and using their resources to help others."
Young people, she said, are less concerned with denominational differences than with the big questions of life.
"For my kids, talking about Heaven and Hell, they don't get it," she said. "They want to know, 'Why am I here? What purpose does God have for me in the middle of this?' "
One of Rhee's four paid staff members, 22-year-old Jennifer Mitroff of Abilene, Tex., agrees.
"A large majority of us [are] seeking something beyond just money," Mitroff said. "Gen X wants to see a change in society. They want to see people helping people. They want to see the despair turned to hope."
Bergfalk hired Rhee in August 1995 after she came to him with ideas on how to develop the church's youth ministry. He gave her a budget of $5,000 and free run of the church's youth center at Eighth and G streets NW. At the time, the church already offered a couple of adult education programs and served lunch to the homeless twice a week.
This past school year, 115 children in grades three through 12 came to Horizon, Calvary's afternoon tutoring program. From 4 to 8 p.m., they got help with their homework, played games and were served a snack. Some of the 85 volunteers who participated came from Georgetown University's law school and George Washington University; others responded to newspaper ads.
Rhee and Mitroff modeled Urban Hands after a program they saw in Texas. "Hands" stands for "Helping Another in Need by Demonstrating Servanthood." During spring break and in the summer, young people from churches across the country spend a week at Calvary getting firsthand experience in ministry aimed at disadvantaged youths. They sleep in bunk beds, eat at the youth center and are put through a 24-hour "poverty simulation" in which they have to give up all but four of their possessions. And, Rhee quipped, "A makeup bag does not count as one item."
The trainees must carry out certain assigned tasks in the city, such as borrow a quarter from a stranger, collect 100 aluminum cans and locate three safe places where they might sleep and eat in the winter. The trainees pay $25 a day for these and other experiences, money that helps fund Calvary's youth ministry.
Volunteers who complete the program get silver hands to wear around their necks, a reminder to reach out and help their communities.
So far, 40 churches have participated in Urban Hands, according to Mitroff, its director. This summer, groups will come in weekly from 12 churches in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia. Last year, 785 people went through the program.
During the summer, Urban Hands missionary trainees help Rhee and her staff run Calvary's four day camps, three at Calvary's youth center and one, now in its third year, in the Northeast neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. They also help run Fraser Camp, a Calvary-owned overnight camp in Great Falls where District children spend Monday through Friday.
Rhee's work has inspired others to help. Members of Newcomers of Great Falls, a social and philanthropic group, were so impressed--and so worried about the poor condition of the vans she was using to transport children to and from camp--that they sent Calvary a $26,000 check for a new van.
"I really think Paget and her staff . . . offer the kids hope," said Janet Servis, who is active in Newcomers. "That was what struck most of us. She's offering them a way out, love, acceptance."
Such generosity from others, Rhee said, is "really like the fishes and loaves. . . . I've talked to people on airplanes, and I get home, and there's a check."
When she started work at Calvary, Rhee got comments about her race. "At first, I felt like I had to go around and apologize for being white and caring about the inner city," she said. "I'd go to meetings, and someone would say, 'Oh, they didn't tell me you were white.' "
Most of the Urban Hands trainees also are white, a situation Rhee concedes is "not ideal." But the children and teens helped by Calvary's youth programs "don't care," she said. "They care about how much you care about them."
Jorge "Chino" Garay, 19, has been a regular in the Horizon program for several years and says it "kept a lot of us off the street, gave us a place to play basketball other than going someplace else where we might get in trouble."
Garay, who graduated last month from Cardozo Senior High School and works part time at Starbucks, said he and other youths didn't see Horizon as a program: "We considered it like a second home."
When he first came to Horizon, "I was just very aggressive," Garay said. He credits Rhee and her staff with helping him understand life and "that there's more to it than just being physical. . . . It's also spiritual."
Rhee said she and her staff worked hard to persuade Garay to broaden his career horizons beyond his desperate dream to play for the National Basketball Association. She told him she was sure God had great plans for him even if he didn't get drafted into basketball paradise.
"He leaned back in his seat and was quiet a minute," she remembered. "Then he said, 'Yes, I guess I am multitalented.' "
One of those talents, clearly, is a sense of humor.
"I'm still praying to grow a foot, and then I can be in the NBA," Garay said. "I'm 5 foot 4, and hopefully by the end of the summer I'll be 6 foot 4."
CAPTION: Five-year-old Zina Mathis, right, who is having a bad day, gets some comfort from Paget Rhee, who has revitalized youth programs at Calvary Baptist Church in Northwest.
CAPTION: Paget Rhee, who played basketball in high school and college, demonstrates technique to Meimei Kong, 12, center, and Nancy Lee, 12.