Great-great-grandmother has good reasons to help

Volunteers/Where good neighbors get together

January 08, 1991|By Ellen Hawks | Ellen Hawks,Evening Sun Staff

ONCE A WEEK, 78-year-old Grace Swartz takes the bus from her home in Parkville to the Maryland School for the Blind in northeast Baltimore where she volunteers ''for anything they want me to do.

''Most of the time I am in the office cutting out and packaging product labels that people bring to us. I also stuff the brochures and other materials in envelopes which we mail out,'' she says.

Her interest in volunteering is twofold. She says helping out is a pleasure, and she also does it for her great-great-granddaughter, Kelly Stewart, who has been a student at the school since Feb. 2, 1987.

''Kelly is 10 and a Down Syndrome baby who is deaf and almost blind. She lives with me on weekends and at the school on weekdays. Until about a year ago we lived in Laurel but moved to Parkville so we would be closer and then I could volunteer,'' she says.

On weekends, Swartz gets help from several staff workers who care for Kelly on their own time. ''They take turns taking her to visit them, on rides and to events. Each is proficient in sign language and knows how to work with Kelly. I am not as good but am taking sign language lessons each Tuesday,'' says Swartz.

The Maryland School for the Blind, now 137 years old, is located on a 95-acre campus at 3501 Taylor Ave. and is one of only six private, state-assisted schools for the blind in the United States. Louis M. Tutt is superintendent. Assistant superintendents are Kirk Walter, administrative services, and Dr. Richard DeMott, student services.

Children, ages 2 to 21, from all over the state who are visually impaired (some are multi-handicapped) are referred to the school by their local education agencies. Of about 200 students, two-thirds are residents during the week and go home on weekends. They attend free.

The school's Outreach Services Department helps another 150 or more who are preschool or enrolled in public schools. Help includes diagnostic and prescriptive evaluations and a summer program, Skills for Independence, which is held on the campus, plus more.

Swartz wishes she were even closer to the school. She has been in the Baltimore area for 25 years. ''I was born in Washington, D.C., lived in Charleston, S.C., and then Laurel. My husband died when I was 29 and I raised three children, two sons and a daughter. ''I never married again,'' she says.

From early morning to late afternoon one day a week, she cuts out and bundles labels. ''If I can't finish, I'll gather them up and finish at home,'' she says.

John Scarborough, volunteer coordinator, says that the labels or proofs of purchase can be ''anything that is from a Campbell's product, Vlasic pickles, Prego spaghetti sauce, V-8 cocktail and any Pepperidge Farm product. We get a catalog from Campbell's and for a certain number of labels can get items ranging from a pencil sharpener to recreation materials, software for computers and a 15-passenger van, which, of course, would take millions of labels,'' he says.

Scarborough says the labels bearing the proof of purchase from Campbell products are brought in to the school by parents, friends and workers and are welcome from anyone interested in helping the school obtain free items.

The school, says Scarborough, has a dedicated group of volunteers who gave 9,000 hours last year. ''We need help in every area with such things as clerical work, sports and swimming programs, help with residents in the evenings, as drivers, classroom helpers and more. ''Hours can be arranged for a volunteer,'' he says.

To volunteer to the Maryland School for the Blind, call John Scarborough at 444-5000, Ext. 278.

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