When Florence Clinton-Simpson was a little girl, her family "sure could have used some help," she says.
It was the eve of the Depression and she, her sister and widowed mother had just moved to New Jersey. They never had a holiday, she says, because her mother was always preparing and serving dinner at local churches.
Clinton-Simpson herself, beginning at age 11, played the organ at the local Methodist church, where she was paid a dollar a week. "Every dollar I took home to my mother," she says.
Later, they moved to New York City, where she and her sister took turns going to high school so that one of them would always be working to help their mother support the family. "We were poor, but we never went on welfare," she says proudly.
Perhaps because of those early hardships, Florence Clinton-Simpson has been giving to others ever since.
"Every day is a full program," she says, lasting from 6 in the morning until 12:30 or 1 a.m. the next day. "That's not long -- people get too much sleep anyway," she says.
On a typical day last week, Clinton-Simpson drove a friend to Washington for a doctor's appointment, picked up clothes for the poor, helped write cards and letters for senior citizens, and provided transportation to and from the mall for a friend.
And that was in addition to her regular volunteer work --playing the piano and leading sing-alongs at senior day care centers in Columbia, Silver Spring, and Baltimore, and counseling and comforting terminally ill people and their families as a hospice volunteer. She also visits shut-ins, helps with the music at church and teaches Sunday School.
While working as a secretary at Morgan State University, Clinton-Simpson set up a gerontology program and at age 59 became its first graduate, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1973.
Looking decades younger than her 76 years, Clinton-Simpson begins each day with meditation.
"I'm never too busy to pray," she says. "I'm not lucky, I'm grateful. I have a attitude of thankfulness. I love life and I like to laugh and be pleasant and be happy. Love carries me through."
It is an attitude she says carries over to her three children. One is a teacher, one is a social worker and one is a preacher. All have master's degrees, she says proudly.
What they learned growing up, she says, is that adulthood means holding two jobs -- one for the support of their families and the other to give service to the community. It is a lesson she has been living and teaching since childhood.