Columbia woman recognized nationally as volunteer 20 years service to poor is honored

September 06, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Long-time volunteer Priscilla Miller Hart does things from the heart.

Her reward is not money but the satisfaction of helping the county's poor, elderly and handicapped -- a crusade she has undertaken for more than 20 years.

Two decades of volunteerism have won her the Jayne Thomas Grassroots Volunteer Recognition Award from the National Association of Community Action Agencies. She received her award -- a plaque -- at the association's national convention Thursday in Orlando, Fla., before an audience of 1,400 people.

She was picked from a field of 10 nominees nationwide for the award, which was given and named in honor of a long-time volunteer who served the poor in Boston.

"My greatest satisfaction is enabling people to do something they weren't able to do before," said Mrs. Hart. "People being on welfare and being able to be trained for a job and live successfully -- that's what makes me feel good about it."

The 63-year-old Columbia resident is not only an advocate, but an activist for a number of agencies, including the United Way, the Association of Retarded Citizens and Community Action Council. She's helped promote more social services, establish community housing and register low-income people to vote.

"I appreciate being recognized for my contributions at a national level by a national organization," she said before she left for Orlando. "There are a lot of other people who do as much as I do. To be recognized this way is special."

Mrs. Hart is no stranger to awards.

She won a Distinguished Volunteer Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an Outstanding Service to the Community award from the county Human Rights Commission, both in 1982. She also won the Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award from the county Association of Community Services that year.

"In a nutshell, you can say Priscilla's life is volunteerism," said Dottie Moore, president of the county Community Action Council. "She's a giver. She's not a taker. She doesn't expect to benefit in any way. Her benefits are satisfied when the needs of the poor are being met."

In the early '70s, Mrs. Hart led the push for the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance (URTA), which provides free transportation for the low-income, disabled and elderly in the county.

She spearheaded efforts to continue Head Start -- a program to help low-income students -- when the school system dropped it more than 10 years ago.

"She was one of the movers and shakers," said Ms. Moore, who nominated her for the award. "Priscilla has been very much a community activist and volunteer. She's always been involved with the community."

An interest in political science and a feeling of responsibility sparked her interest in helping people. And a daughter who was born mildly retarded spurred her to rally for better services for the disabled.

Her concern for helping people spans countries. Recently, she traveled to Guatemala to help its citizens build a day care center. She belongs to the Howard County Friends of Central America.

Mrs. Hart says she's got a long way to go before she quits.

"There's still too many problems in the world. We solve a few of them, but there will always remain people who need support."

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