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    Joe Van Deuren, A Sensei With Some Vision

    Joe Van Deuren is changing the role of the martial arts teacher in his or her community.

    He's a 2 time UBBT member --and a teacher worth watching. Read about some of his work, below:


    Volunteer of the Month | Joe Van Deuren

    When asked what guiding principles have shaped his life, passionate philanthropist Joe Van Deuren is quick to respond. “Balance in everything you do. Be aware of what you put into your body, your food, thoughts, entertainment. Don’t worry about how much money you are going to make or not make in anything that you choose to do. Do what is right because it is the right thing to do and best for yourself and others, and everything else will work out,” he says. The 55-year-old Van Deuren speaks with the conviction of an accomplished citizen, devoted to his community. A nine-year resident of Edgewater (lifelong resident of Anne Arundel County), he is a member of the South County Rotary Club, on business advisory boards at three county high schools, on the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, and a flagship class graduate of Leadership Anne Arundel. And that's just the half of it: Van Deuren also has developed a number of charitable programs, inspired by his interest in the martial arts.

    “About 15 years ago I started taking martial arts lessons and I witnessed and experienced how much influence the teacher had with his or her students,” he says. “It occurred to me that the physical exercise, combined with the philosophy and fellowship, in a martial arts school was a great vehicle to teach lessons about life.”

    Van Deuren’s belief that “teaching martial arts to people was as good a way as any to effect change in people’s lives, in a community, and quite possibly in the world” was cemented when he completed a yearlong training program called the Ultimate Black Belt Test, an advanced teacher training program designed by local instructor Tom Callos. In 2003 Van Deuren retired from the successful brick paving company he founded in 1978, to start a new venture: Balanced Life Skills (BLS), a martial arts school. “I think about self-defense from an attitudinal perspective; if we bring in the idea that a healthy diet is self-defense; anger management is self-defense; and our connection to our friends, family, and community is self-defense, then we actually begin teaching a kind of self-defense that is relevant and applicable to today’s world. It’s a global approach to self-defense.”

    This integrated approach to self-defense, awareness of your actions and how they affect you and the community in which you live, has further motivated Van Deuren to extend his reach into the community by creating several charitable programs. These include Acts of Kindness, Place Mats for You, Where Does the Rain Go?, Safety and Bully Prevention, Facing Your Fears, and Grants 4 Teachers.

    Place Mats for You is a program in which students create artwork on place mats and then give them to people who may have limited contact with others: those whose ability to get out and about may be limited or who may not have many visits from family members. “We encourage young folks to make the place mats and then deliver them to senior centers, Meals on Wheels programs, senior resident homes, or individual senior citizens,” says Van Deuren. “We are encouraging younger ones to make a connection with the older folks and brighten their day as only a child can do.”

    On the environmental side, Where Does the Rain Go? is a leadership project for youth and adults that started in BLS but now is in the public and private schools. Participants decorate rain barrels that are auctioned to the public to raise money for environmental education. The first two years the proceeds went to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; this past year the proceeds were split between Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center and the schools that took part in the program. “This [past] year we were able to institute the leadership segment of the program, with South River High School students taking barrels to two elementary schools and working with the students in decorating them. One of our goals is the encouragement of the high school students’ mentoring and teaching younger students,” Van Deuren explains.

    Grants 4 Teachers is Van Deuren’s newest project: a partnership with the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, beginning this fall. “BLS seeds a fund to invest in our youth by supporting the teachers, who every year spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars per school year funding the needs of their individual classrooms. We are now asking the community to invest,” he says.

    These programs only begin to scratch the surface of Van Deuren’s philanthropic endeavors. The married father of four children already has several ideas in the works for 2010 to encourage strong bonds between the youth and adults of the Anne Arundel County community.

    “I only hope to reach another segment of individuals that may be moved to live their life outside their own small world and grow in their ability to serve others,” he says. “It is also about creating awareness of the effect each individual has on our interconnected community and world.”

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