At 3:30 in the afternoon Darcel Harris leaves the front door of her home on Pennsylvania Avenue in Westminster. She takes two steps to her left and enters the front door to the other half of her duplex. A simple piece of paper reading "Wee Can Help" hangs in the window.
Just then, a group of kids flows through the same door -- 5-year-old Ebonie, 7-year-old Sierra, 8-year-old Sophia and 5-year-old James are among them.
Twenty years ago Harris was living in Carroll County's family shelter with her 8-month-old daughter Martha, trying to find some structure and direction in her life.
Today she is a reading teacher for Carroll County Public Schools after having earned multiple degrees, including a Ph.D. from Walden University in education physchology. That infant is now a college senior.
Harris, featured in a recent Patch story on homelessness in Carroll County, utilized the county's network of non-profit assistance to structure her life and become self-sufficient. As soon as she began making it on her own, she knew she wanted to give back.
Wee Can Help was born.
Founded in 1992, it was the center of Harris' plan to keep kids focused on education. The after-school program provides a safe and nurturing environment for children ranging from pre-school through middle school. The students, tutors and Harris herself interact as a family might, working and laughing together.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, tutor Dominique Wilson, a junior at UMBC, helped a student with a complex math problem while Christian rap music played in the background. At the next table Harris sat with two pre-school children helping them sound out words. In the next room a middle school student, Ezekiel, was helping 7-year-old Sierra with a numbers problem.
Westminster resident Robert Moore said he was looking for tutoring for his son, also named Robert, who has trouble with test-taking. The younger Robert is in his third year working with Harris. Now in eighth grade at East Middle School, the boy's confidence and test scores have improved, his dad said.
"Not only does she educate, she gives a sense of purpose," the elder Moore said. "Something I've noted they're missing at East Middle is what I call culture sensitivity and children of color are missing that ...."
Moore said Harris offers students teaching that goes beyond textbooks. She teaches kids how to work through problems and communicate, he said.
"I'm working on social skills," Harris said. "Yes academics are important, but if you can't get along with others, you're in trouble. If you don't know how to probem solve without throwing up your fists, you're in trouble."
Wee Can Help does not get grant funding or community financial support. The families who send their children to Harris for after-school help pay what they can.
Harris' daughter, a student at McDaniel College, works with the kids after school, as does Hakeem, a junior at Winters Mill High School and his sister Dominique Wilson, a UMBC student. In addition, when the middle school-age kids finish their homework, they are often given the task of assisting the elementary kids with math problems or reading. A total of nine kids receive tutoring services from Wee Can Help.
"What do I get out of this?" Harris said. "Joy. I believe it's a calling from God to work with the kids and give back."