Though she counsels cancer patients, collects food for the poor and homeless and visits homebound people, Elizabeth Aro had one thought when President Bush named her a Point of Light for her volunteer work.
"Why me?" wondered Ms. Aro, a 60-year-old grandmother who lives near Arbutus. "I don't work by myself."
At St. Agnes Hospital, where Ms. Aro has volunteered in the oncology department for more than 15 years, there are 200 other volunteers, she points out.
But few approach their work with Ms. Aro's devotion. Three times a week, she visits cancer patients at St. Agnes in Southwest Baltimore, listening to their fears and reassuring them in a raspy voice that they can survive. After all, she did.
A decade ago, Ms. Aro lost her voice box to cancer. She went through extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments and had to learn how to speak again. But she beat the cancer.
Her experiences mean a great deal to patients who are losing their hair from chemotherapy and wonder whether the treatment will save their lives. Ms. Aro knows just how they feel. She was bald after her chemotherapy treatments, but her hair grew back.
"I've got a head full of hair, and I let it stay long so they can see it," she says. "I show them that it can get better."
She stays on call for cancer patients at night, gives talks about cancer risks and holds support group meetings to discuss treatments and the day-to-day struggle against the disease.
Ms. Aro's supervisor at St. Agnes nominated her for the award, but it could have come from plenty of other sources. In addition to the hospital, Ms. Aro volunteers for Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in Arbutus, collecting food and clothing for the church's food pantry, which helps poor and homeless families.
She also visits homebound people on behalf of the church, delivering food, preparing meals, running errands or driving people to appointments.
Ms. Aro, who is raising her 14-year-old granddaughter, Kristina Aro, and suffers from a chronic stomach disease, made a list of the places she volunteers after she was named a Point of Light, and it came to 10. She figures the volunteer work makes up for the 15 years she wrote tickets as a Baltimore City Police Department traffic officer. "I was a nasty person," Ms. Aro insists.
Retired now, she revels in her volunteer work, getting back far more than she gives. "If I didn't volunteer, I think I wouldn't make it because I'd be sitting at home like some of the patients I visit. They give up," she said. "If you don't stay busy, you're wasting what God gave you."