A whim becomes a labor of love for homeless shelter volunteer

June 28, 1992|By Brian Sullam | Brian Sullam,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- If Linda Tully's husband hadn't poked her in the ribs and chided her at church a decade ago, she might not have ever realized how much pleasure she gets from helping strangers.

Tully, who supervises the shelter for homeless and battered women in Carroll County, and her husband were worshiping at St. Joseph's Church in Taneytown one Sunday when the priest asked for volunteers to help with the newly established branch of Food Sunday, Carroll County's food bank. It was the second time in two weeks the priest had asked for help.

"My husband told me that I was always complaining about being bored and said I ought to volunteer," said Tully.

So she did. And she has yet to regret it.

"I would work here for nothing. All they have to do is give me a desk, and I'll be happy," Tully said.

From a one-day-a-week volunteer, she became a three-day-a-week volunteer.

"It was really a neat feeling. I really enjoyed the work. Coordinating donations, hauling the food around in my truck, distributing the food and taking care of the paperwork . . .," said Tully.

She also began to see the tremendous impact these volunteer efforts could have on people.

"If you fill their bellies, you can get most people to do anything. They can hear you, and they can help themselves," she said.

She worked at the food bank for two years and got to know Sylvia Canon, now director of the Human Services Program.

At the time, Canon was the catalyst for a lot of volunteer efforts to help the poor and displaced people of Carroll County.

That first volunteer experience with the food bank led to a job working with incapacitated elderly people and their families. From there she got involved with homeless people, and last month she was one of five women who received state recognition for "providing services beyond their ordinary duties."

The state Department of Human Resources said that since 1985 Tully has done an extraordinary job in helping many homeless women and homeless women with children to get their lives organized.

"What I like to do is plant some seeds. You try to help them see that there are alternatives and choices," she said.

Tully said the DHR prize was a complete surprise, but she said just the opportunity to help people is reward enough.

"Basically I am a care-giver. I like helping people solve their problems," she said.

Even though she sometimes brings her job home with her, no one in her family complains.

"At least four times a week, my husband tells me how proud he is," said Tully.

She married William Tully a year after she graduated from St. James Business School, a now-closed Baltimore institution.

"All I wanted to do was grow up and get married," she said.

She and her husband had two children -- a son, Ray, now 27, and a daughter, Dorothy, 22.

In 1978, the family left the Parkville area of Baltimore County and moved to Taneytown, where they still live.

Behind her desk, Tully has pictures of her children and her 2-year-old granddaughter, who is the delight of her life.

XTC Ask Tully what she does for recreation, she pauses a while and responds, "Play with my granddaughter."

But it is clear that working with the homeless and battered women has become a very important part of her life. Her co-workers are like "sisters," Tully said.

"There's a closeness here. That is the best part of working here. If we have problems, we know there is a safe place where we can let our hair down," she said.

Her enthusiasm for the job also has affected Dorothy, who has become a part-time relief worker for the shelter.

Not all who show up at Tully's office have their problems fixed. Tully said there are some tough cases that don't get solved.

"We are able to solve a lot of problems right here," Tully said, pointing to a seat next to her desk in her cramped windowless office. "It is just a matter of getting these women to focus on what their situation is and what they can do about it."

Not all the women that Tully sees end up in a shelter. Sometimes, the process off sifting through options results in unexpected solutions.

"We can't possibly shelter all the people who show up here," said Tully, adding that the women's shelter on average houses 14 women and 16 children.

She speculated that the openning of Interstate 795 has made much of the county's lower-cost rental housing available to more people. In addition, several large employers -- such as Black & Decker -- have had layoffs during the past several years.

And there are just situations where women find themselves without housing. They split up with boyfriends or they are pushed out by parents who want them and their children out of their house. Tully has seen it all.

"People say that I am pretty good at relating to people," said Tully. "Their only complaint is that I talk too fast."

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