Volunteers help many with toil and kindness

December 27, 1992|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Anna Carlisle and Pete McElroy were singing and playing "Go Tell It On the Mountain," and people who had hardly spoken a word in years were singing along with them.

"Music touches everyone," Ms. Carlisle said. "They won't talk, but they'll sing."

Ms. Carlisle and Mr. McElroy are two of the thousands of registered volunteers who give 100 hours a year or more to the Baltimore County Department of Aging just to, as Mr. McElroy says, "bring a smile to someone's face."

At least once a week, Norma and Woodward Smith show senior groups slides of their world travels; and, Charlie Burton is the main "gofer" at the adult medical day-care center the department operates in Towson. Mr. Burton buys groceries for the 30 or so people who attend the center and eat two daily meals there.

Carol Leinhard, director of the department's division of programs and volunteer services, said volunteers serve more than 20,000 elderly people a year in Baltimore County and give about a half-million hours of service to the department.

"Many are retired professionals who want to make significant use of their special talents to help people," she said.

Mr. McElroy, 66, who retired two years ago after 45 years as a pressman at The Sun, sees volunteering from a slightly different angle.

"It's for us," said Mr. McElroy, who has been playing his guitar and singing for the seniors for several years. "It fills a need in our lives, and it comes from the heart."

Last week, Mr. McElroy played Santa Claus to a group of children from Towson Presbyterian kindergarten, who had come the day-care center to brighten the seniors' rainy day.

Ms. Carlisle, 73, worked for Hess Shoes for 30 years. Looking for something to do after her retirement, she began taking painting and writing classes at Bykota Senior Center, in the same Towson building where the adult medical day-care center is located.

"Someone told me there was a guitarist playing for the seniors, and the next thing I knew, I was up there with Pete," she said.

Now they perform every Wednesday and regard the staff and seniors as family. Ms. Carlisle also volunteers in nursing homes, where she pushes a "goody cart" offering residents candy, cards, soap and otheritems at cost.

Norma and Woodward Smith (she is a retired nursing supervisor, he a retired structural steel foreman) have more than 10,000 color slides from their numerous trips throughout the world.

"We outlined what we had and offered our services," said Mrs. Smith. "I narrate and my husband works the projector, and sometimes we wear costumes from the countries we've visited. The senior citizens love it."

In all, 3,500 volunteers fill out a time sheet each time they go out. When they reach 100 hours, they qualify for a luncheon given by the department.

"We had more than 1,200 attend our luncheon this year," Ms. Leinhard said. "It's our way of saying thanks. There are a couple of thousand more people who give less than 100 hours, but they all give what they can."

Many volunteers go to public and private nursing homes and also visit the elderly in their homes. Those who go into private homes must furnish references and submit to a police check. So far, the department hasn't had any problem with its volunteers, said Ms. Leinhard.

"[The volunteers] are sort of our eyes and ears. If they see a problem, they let us know and we attend to it," said Ms. Leinhard, noting that the department has a team of professionals to respond to problems. "We don't expect the volunteers to deal with difficult problems."

Senior volunteers also work with children, especially in day-care centers with one or more problem children.

"The volunteers will help with the other children so the professional supervisor can work with the problem children," Ms. Leinhard said.

The volunteers aren't always retirees looking to help. Last year, folks at the Edgemere Senior Center stuffed a half-million envelopes for charitable agencies.

"We're always on the lookout to match needs," Ms. Leinhard said. "The seniors like to feel useful, and the charitable agencies are delighted with the careful work the senior citizens accomplish."

Ms. Leinhard spends a lot of her time interviewing prospective volunteers and matching them with the right situation. The department also stays in touch with the community to find out what is needed.

"Right now we need teachers of English to help some elderly Russian immigrants to learn the language," Ms. Leinhard said.

Information: (410) 887-4141.

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