August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

ON A TRIP LAST SUMMER TO VISIT the Baltimore Orioles, Gillian Kilberg saw Tommy, an 11-year-old camper who had barely spoken all summer, watching Cal Ripken Jr. at batting practice. When the future Hall of Famer put down his bat, an Oriole coach threw Tommy a ball that Ripken had hit. “That’s what really brought Tommy out of his shell,” says Kilberg, the 18-year-old dynamo who founded Grandma Rita’s Children, a six-week day camp that takes 52 pre-teen kids from a low-income housing complex in Fairfax County, Va., on two to four outings a week. “He was dancing, he was cheering. [Now] he’s much more willing to let himself go.”

That—and honoring her grandmother Rita Greene, with whom she had a special bond—is just what Kilberg had in mind when she started the program last summer using the $20,000 she inherited from Greene, who died two years ago at 86. “I thought I hadn’t done enough when she was alive to let people know what I thought about her,” Kilberg says of her Russian-born grandmother. “She was an amazing woman who was always there for me.”

Now others say the same about Kilberg, soon to start her freshman year at Duke University. The third of five children born to a Washington lawyer and his wife, a former George Bush aide, Gillian has raised another $40,429 in donations and awards to support the effort and rounded up 70-odd volunteers to chaperone trips to the Supreme Court, the Capital Children’s Museum and other sites. “This gives them the opportunity to get out, to learn, to experience childhood,” says volunteer Carolyn Reid, 54. “It lets them know there’s somebody out there who cares.”

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