Wanted: Special Companions For Some Special People


June 23, 1991|By Dolly Merritt


Outdoor companion -- someone who would enjoy sharing the joys of nature with a fellow sportsman who enjoys horseback riding and fishing. Excellent benefits.

Sports enthusiast who likes football, basketball, soccer and baseball. Must be willing to take another sports enthusiast out to a ballgame. No experience necessary.

Artist needed to guide creative endeavors of a budding painter. Will purchase own paints and brushes. Flexible hours.

The notices don't exist yet, but for workers from six county agencies who have formed the Community Companion Connection, they could soon become a reality, helping to match volunteers as companions for retarded adults in Howard County.

The idea expands ona 1-year-old program begun by the Howard County Association of Retarded Citizens (HCARC). The CCC began recruiting in January and hopes to attract more than 100 people willing to share their time and interests to enrich the lives of retarded people.

"If they become friends, that's a bonus," said Susan Daddio, who is spearheading the recruitment of volunteers. Ideally, she said, the volunteers will help to identify their companion's needs in the community.

Daddio, coordinator of staff training and community integration for the HCARC, has matched 10 such pairs in the past year as its program took shape. Otheragencies participating in the CCC are the County Recreation and Parks Department, Service Coordination Systems (an agency that serves disabled people), and three residential living agencies -- Adaptive Living Inc., Richcroft Inc. and Life Inc.

The CCC is following Daddio's lead. Volunteers' ages, interests and schedules will be matched with those of people suggested by the residential agencies. Residents fill out an application if they would like a volunteer companion.

The ideal volunteer is one who "will not patronize the individuals and who wants to help the person to become as independent as possible," said Laura Wetherald, coordinator of therapeutic recreation for the recreation and parks department.

She likened the job to that of a "stage director -- someone who knows when to move in and move out." Volunteers participate in a two-hour training program.

Betsy Bucks, acase manager with Service Coordination Systems, has submitted about five names so far.

"I could submit all 42 of my clients, but I don't want to overwhelm the process right now," she said.

Highland resident George Edwards, a 49-year-old computer programmer, was among the first to volunteer a year ago. He spends every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the Central Library with his companion, Ronald Welch, who lives in a group home. For most of his life, Welch lived in institutions. With Edwards' help, he is learning to read in the Project Literacy program.

"Ron will never learn how to read phonetically. But you can teach him sight reading, like how to write phone numbers," said Edwards. Married and the father of two teen-agers, Edwards' decision to volunteer was spurred by his younger brother, who was profoundly retarded. When his brother was 10, the family moved into a one-roomtrailer in North Carolina, and his parents had to put the boy in an institution.

"It's something that you don't forget," Edwards said.

For the past year, Edwards has tried to help Welch reach into thecommunity. They hike, fish and watch football together.

Welch haseven joined a Saturday bowling league for disabled people. For now, the two men walk to the library together from Edwards' home, but Edwards hopes that eventually Welch will be able to make the trip alone.

Encouraging such independence and providing fun are what Daddio considers "job" responsibilities for volunteers. Seeking other types ofsupport is another.

Edwards, for example, contacted Welch's father and helped Welch plan regular visits with his family.

"He is extremely proud and now brags about his parents, two brothers, nephews and nieces," Edwards said.

Another volunteer, Kim Donohue, a 28-year-old marketing assistant for Price Waterhouse in Columbia, visits her companion about three times a month. The meetings with Cathy Morrison started in March, and a mutual interest in art has led the twosometo sign up for weekly art classes.

"I gave her a drawing pad, paints and brushes and we spend some of our time together picnicking andpainting at Centennial Park," Donohue said.

Morrison, 42, works as a custodian at Fort Meade, and has Down's syndrome, a disorder thatalso afflicted Donohue's older brother.

"My whole family was active in the retarded community," said Donohue.

Morrison lives in a group home in Columbia. Since her family lives out of state, Donohue has helped fill the gap.

"The experience has been personally rewarding and it brings back many childhood memories," Donohue said. "People with Down's syndrome have a sweet disposition and seem to love unconditionally. . . . Cathy giggles alot and calls me 'that lady, Kim.' "

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