For many seniors who live in the Baltimore area, retirement means they can finally become advocates for social causes that they've wanted to help over the years. Now they have time to help feed the hungry, visit the lonely or fight illiteracy. Their social concerns are as varied as the reasons for their efforts. But all have freely chosen to give of their time and want to make a difference.
... Catherine Bayly is 78 years old and loves to read. She works in retail sales job just one day a week. But instead of using her days off to read alone, she chooses to share her pleasure with others by tutoring adults who have never learned to read.
"I became interested in tutoring when I read about the numbers of [people who can't read] in the county and city," Mrs. Bayly said. "There are so many people out there who need help. I made up my mind that when I had the time, that was what I would like to do. I've always wanted to help others because I love reading so much myself."
About four years ago, Mrs. Bayly received training from Baltimore Reading Aides, a community-based volunteer literacy program, and learned to tutor adult non-readers. She began working with students in the Govans area and developed a particularly good relationship with one woman in her 30s.
"She was very faithful," Mrs. Bayly said. "She told me that no one had ever helped her before. Sometimes I'd come home very exhausted, but it was very rewarding just to know that she made any progress."
Mrs. Bayly had to give up tutoring in Govans when she moved with her husband to Charlestown, a continuing care retirement community in Catonsville. But she wanted to continue her volunteer work, and as she settled into her new home she realized that many of her neighbors had the time and the talent to help.
Last summer she organized a training program for them. Carol Leonard, a volunteer who trains tutors for Baltimore Reading Aides and the Compass Training Group, conducted the class.
"All of this was through Catherine's efforts," Mrs. Leonard said. "I tell you she has been absolutely wonderful."
Now there are 21 tutors at Charlestown who are ready and willing to work. A few travel to West Baltimore each week to help students in classes at The Learning Bank, a community-based adult basic education program. But what the tutors would really like to do is work one-on-one with students who can come to Charlestown.
"It's hard recruiting students," Mrs. Leonard added. "But once you get into a one-on-one situation that really works it's very hard not to let your heart just go."
... Clarke Beiler's wife, Dorothy Lorraine, lived in a nursing home before she died five years ago.
"I would go to see her and mine would be the only name on the register, day after day," Mr. Beiler said. "Largely there weren't any visitors. It became clear to me that there was a situation here that needed some kind of attention."
So when the 79-year-old retired Westinghouse physicist and senior engineer was asked to be a volunteer visitor to the elderly, he readily agreed. Now he calls on residents at a board and care home in Odenton once a week as a volunteer for the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging.
"I thought I had some extra time," said Mr. Beiler. "Something needed to be done and somebody had to do it. Who else?
"Some of these people may have family visitors, but a lot of them don't. Nobody ever comes to see them. They may feel kind of alone there. I act as a liaison between the provider and the client if there's a problem. Or maybe I just establish a friendship with somebody who didn't have one before."
Mr. Beiler also gives a lot of time to another county project, the Representative Payee program, helping elderly people who cannot manage their own finances. He works with two other volunteers, Tim Harris and Betty Dyson, to coordinate a group of people who administer the Social Security or pension benefits of seniors who need help.
"He's very dedicated," said Joan O'Sullivan, managing attorney of the Senior Citizens Law Project, a division of the Legal Aid Bureau for Anne Arundel County. "And he's very organized. We're really lucky to have him, to have all of them. People can get in dire straits when they lose the ability to handle their funds. They may stop paying their utilities or their rent."
But while the purpose of the program is to manage finances, "There's more to this than just bill paying," Mr. Beiler said. "In most cases a real relationship is established."
... In September, Mable Runge and her volunteer workers at the Eastern Interfaith Outreach provided emergency food and financial assistance to 158 needy families.
"Most people are so appreciative," said Mrs. Runge, the director of the non-profit community corporation. "And I'm so thankful to be able to help them. I wish we could do more."