If Larry Berardelli could have his wish, the county Department of Social Services would have more Harriet Allens.
Allen, however, insists there's nothing special about the fact that for two days a week, virtually every week for the past seven years, she's shown up at the Social Services offices in Bel Air to help as a volunteer.
"Please don't make me sound like a Miss Goody Two-Shoes," said the 70-year-old Bel Air resident. "There are tons of other people out there doing what I do who deserve recognition."
But not everyone could do what Allen does with the same level of enthusiasm, said Berardelli, director of the county DSS.
Each week, Allen spends two six-hour days gathering information from people applying for emergency assistance for food, rent or heating bills.
Allen said that while she's busy with those tasks, the "guidance counselor in me comes out" and she tries to help people develop a long-range plan to get back on their feet. She often refers them to other agencies that can give them supplemental assistance.
"The fact that these people are sittingthere with a court eviction notice is an emergency, but there are lots of other things contributing to that problem," said Allen. "I don't know how they sleep at night. So I try to offer suggestions on how to cut fuel bills or work with them in developing a budget."
Allenalso helps caseworkers complete routine paperwork, and she's been known to corral other volunteers to help her write reports on topics such as the homeless, Berardelli said.
Allen's volunteer spirit has proven contagious, said Lillian Sonberg, another volunteer at the DSS.
"If anyone is in need, there is Harriet," Sonberg said. "This issomething she feels she should do with her life. I know it fulfills her, and I know a lot of other people who would not do this.
"I came to work at the department four or five years ago because she recruited me to help with the Fuel Fund and Social Services. She has recruited several others as well."
Allen began volunteering at the DSS just three weeks after she retired from a 33-year career as a teacherand guidance counselor at Aberdeen High School.
Since then, she has taken off only a few weeks each year from what has essentially become an unpaid part-time job, said Berardelli.
"Harriet never sits still," he added. "She literally ran our homeless services program until it was moved over to the county's housing agency about a year ago. She's just a very pleasant person who just gives and gives and gives."