Carole Sibel's career: working for good causes

A VITAL, VIBRANT VOLUNTEER 4

February 10, 1991|By Mary Corey

Carole Sibel breezes into the room on a rainy morning, full of apologies. She knows she's late. But what a time she's had. Her car sputtered down Park Heights Avenue and nearly ran out of gas. Then, she had to schlep around looking for a full-service station. (With all the hassles -- the cap, the nozzle, the hose -- who wants to pump their own?)

But everything's fine now. The day -- gas or no gas, rain or shine, late or on time -- is going to be fabulous.

Clutching a stack of folders, a legal pad and her date book, she --es into her first meeting, a planning session for a Baltimore convention of the Council of Jewish Federations. A scheduled bus trip is on everyone's mind. She rails about the way a San Francisco group handled its tour. The confusion. The rudeness. The bad timing.

"I'm going into a sweat from this whole thing!" says Ms. Sibel.

Even sitting down, there's something about Carole Sibel that reminds you of an exclamation point. A long, loping, happy punctuation mark that shouts PAY ATTENTION. Perhaps it's her height (she's 5 feet 8 1/2 ) or maybe it's her boundless energy (in six hours, you only see her yawn twice), but nearly everything about this 55-year-old woman -- the eyes and smile that pop out of her face, the belt buckle the size of a cantaloupe, the wide hoop earrings that resemble a mini-solar system -- causes people to take notice.

Yet, to many, what's most noticeable about Ms. Sibel is her philanthropy. She's involved with so many organizations she's like her own mini United Way.

Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. The Baltimore Opera Company. Pets on Wheels. The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Lifesongs. Healthcare for the Homeless. The Zoo. Sexual Assault Recovery Center.

The list continues.

"I don't know how you don't think you're drowning," friend and fellow volunteer Barbara Kaplow tells her.

The simple truth is, Ms. Sibel is just too busy to drown. She has three other meetings, a manicure and a pedicure today. Tomorrow, she's brainstorming with first-time fund-raisers, practicing her tap-dancing, playing tennis and stopping by the Jewish Community Center. Then on Friday, she has an Alvin Ailey board meeting, another tennis game, a facial, rehearsal for a show for the National Council of Jewish Women and tickets to the symphony. Glance at her calendar, which is booked through June, and it will seem a wonder that she ever sees her Pikesville home.

Next to volunteering, talking (about volunteering) is perhaps what Ms. Sibel enjoys most.

"I do feel I'm making a difference," she says. "I feel like it's a business. I feel I have my own PR firm. I get paid in other ways, by people who acknowledge that I'm doing a good job. That's very rewarding for a volunteer."

There's a story she loves to tell, one that's become legendary among her friends. As it goes, her mother came to visit her kindergarten class and the teacher was just finishing a book. Seconds after closing it, young Carole jumped from her desk and, with arms flailing, yelled, "Now what are we going to do? Now what are we going to do?"

Ms. Sibel laughs. "My mother used to call me a whirling dervish. I guess that's how I am. I can't stand to sit at a meeting where everything's a process. 'Let's list the agenda and list the goals and have an ad hoc committee . . .' I start screaming, 'I want to walk out of this room. Tell me what to do. Let me make a phone call. Let's get it done now.' "

Others have come to appreciate that style. "She just doesn't quit," says Ann McIntosh, executive director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland. "It's a combination of persistence and enthusiasm. It's wonderful and it's rare."

Ms. Sibel knows, however, that not everyone would agree.

"People either like me or they don't," she says matter-of-factly. "But I'm the same wherever I am. . . . I have people who question me: 'Why do you do this? It must be because of the publicity you get.' How can I change their mind? If that's what they want to think, what can I do?"

Heading downtown in her black Jaguar, she bubbles over with enthusiasm about the Ailey company's plans to enhance the self-image of local youngsters through a summer camp.

Where did Carole Sibel's own self-image come from?

Her parents, Carolyn and Percy Chaimson, a homemaker and founder of a food brokerage company, gave her the confidence to succeed, she says.

"I went through this very awkward stage. I was tall and wore braces and had this kind of hair," she says, grabbing a clump of blond curls. "But they always made me feel beautiful, even when I didn't have a lot of dates."

Although English was her best subject in school, she yearned to sing and dance. (In fact, she still performs in amateur shows for various Jewish organizations.)

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