It took about $30,000 in federal money and seven hard workers to weave a safety net of self-help for county seniors.
Before Stella Benesch and six part-time outreach workers started rapping on doors looking for the poor and minority elderly of Anne Arundel County nearly 22 years ago, seniors had no services or centers.
The County Administered Senior Opportunity and Service (CASOS), under Benesch's direction, located thousands of seniors in desperate need of advocacy, information, assistance and referrals.
"CASOS made sure the elderly and minority had a voice in the community," said Benesch, who retired five years ago.
With money from the federally assisted Community Action Agency, CASOS advocated self-help and bringing together the senior community through programs such as Ring-A-Ling, in which seniors phone each other daily to make sure everything isOK.
CASOS also includes social clubs that provide support and a means for networking. Club members sponsor fund-raisers to help fill the CASOS emergency fund. And to help seniors supplement their income,a consignment shop in the Arundel Center North gives seniors a placeto sell their handcrafted items.
The Department of Aging was established in 1982, and CASOS, complete with passenger vans purchased bythe clubs and senior advocacy programs, began its work countywide.
"Robert Pascal and his wife are the godparents of senior programming in Anne Arundel County," said Benesch, 73. "They have done more forseniors than anyone else in this county." Benesch, a Glen Burnie resident who calls herself the "mother hen" of CASOS, said the Pascals reached into their own pockets to keep senior programs going.
Today, CASOS is no longer geared solely toward those with few financial resources.
"Poverty has many faces. You don't have to be money-poor to be poor," said Benesch.
Outreach workers still visit seniors attheir homes, although Benesch said the new system is much more sophisticated.
Agnes Edwards, director of CASOS, said isolated older people are now referred to CASOS by friends and referral services. In addition, the staff uses voter registration lists to locate seniors inneed of help.
Edwards' assistant, Carolyn Scurry, said CASOS helps seniors find the right agency. She said seniors often call because they need housing. One of the six outreach workers visits the senior's home, takes him or her to the housing department and helps to fill out applications.
"First we help (the seniors) understand their rights, and we advocate for them," said Edwards.
Past president of the Burwood Gardens CASOS, Doll Emilinski, has been an active member of the club for eight years. The club, part of the senior center complex on Ritchie Highway, has about 40 members who sponsor bake sales, flea markets, craft shows and bazaars to raise money for the emergencyfund.
The fund, Edwards said, is tapped only if CASOS hits a deadend in finding financial help for needy seniors.
The county has 45 CASOS clubs with 2,000 members. Clubs range in size from 14 members to 125.
On Sept. 5, all CASOS clubs will sponsor a fund-raiser. The luncheon, including a live band and cash raffle, will be open to the public. Information about tickets or CASOS services: Agnes Edwards, 222-6825.