Good Work


December 19, 1993|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Staff Writer

Their names did not come by press release or voice mail. Their names came from people in our community who have informally nominated six people for our special edition of Sunday Snapshots.

They are Mary Joyner, Stanford and Sylvia Schneider, Robert and Lila Schwartz and Greg Gillis.

They aren't heroes or saints. They are just people who decided to do something else with their lives, something different from the usual routine of school, work or retirement. In their spare time, they chose to work with underprivileged kids, neglected and abandoned babies, adult AIDS patients and people who can't get a simple set of eyeglasses.

Some work for nothing; others are paid part-timers. If anything, they have this in common: They were sincerely reluctant and surprised to have a small light turned on them.

After her full-time job, Mary Joyner takes care of the children

Mary Joyner studies the apparent burn marks on the foster child's legs. She asks the 2-year-old boy what happened to his feet. "Mommy, mommy," he says.

Did Akeem's mother really do this?

"Sounds like it to me," says Ms. Joyner, a 45-year-old nurse practitioner. She's a paid part-timer at CRIBS, the Crisis Respite Intervention Baby Shelter at the YWCA in Baltimore.

Looking at the burned feet of a 2-year-old child would make most of us emotionally buckle. But the boy is safe and happy now, and Ms. Joyner sees worse. She works full-time on the pediatric AIDS floor at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"I come down here for relief. This is a piece of cake," Ms. Joyner says.

Ms. Joyner works 20 hours a week at CRIBS, a 17-bed shelter full of children up to age 8 who have been neglected, abandoned or abused. Last week, a 4-day-old boy was brought here because his 13-year-old mother couldn't raise him. The children stay here up to two months until social workers can place them in permanent homes.

"Friends ask me why I spend my nights here after working at Hopkins, but this isn't a depressing place," says Ms. Joyner, a mother of three grown children.

On this Friday night, the shelter is packed with little ones huddled around the TV and "Cosby." The communal giggling hides a rash of kid aches. Ms. Joyner treats a lot of colds, ear infections and lead poisoning caused from chipped lead paint found in old Baltimore homes. She looks for bruises and scars on the babies. Mainly, she pays attention.

Last year, Ms. Joyner suspected that a 7-year-old boy here needed to be tested for the AIDS virus; after all, his chart said both parents had AIDS. Ms. Joyner had the boy tested. He had been HIV-positive since birth.

She finishes giving Akeem his physical and slips his legs back into his Christmas sleeper. Akeem, flexing his vocal chords, doesn't want to leave Miss Mary. The kids, she says, don't want to leave CRIBS.

"They think it's home."

Gerard is drafted to make merry.

With an unlit smoke dangling from his mouth, the AIDS patient is hanging a Merry Christmas banner and following the orders of Sylvia Schneider, the donut woman of Osler 8 -- the AIDS floor at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

To kick off their Monday night shift, Sylvia and Stanford Schneider bring two dozen donuts to Osler 8. The nurses, doctors and other regulars know the couple well; the Schneider's son, Jay, died there in 1990. He was five days away from being 32.

A year after Jay's death, the Baltimore couple came back to Osler 8 as volunteers. They work four hours a week in the same hospital rooms where their son spent the last three years of his life.

They listen to the sick men and women talk, even when some are just rambling. They talk to them about death, something they couldn't discuss with their son here. They get to know someone else's children.

"Then, we watch them die. We go to a lot of memorial services," says Sylvia, a 62-year-old speech pathologist in Baltimore.

On the floor, she gets tea for the patients, writes letters for them, or just listens to them talk and talk. They crave attention, she says.

Her husband and partner, Stan, runs a retail business in Highlandtown. Jay worked in the store with him. And like his son before him, Stan brings holiday decorations to Osler 8. But this is just trim work. The tough job is sitting for hours with people

waiting -- and wanting -- to die.

"I just tell them to let go. It's the end. Don't fight," says Stan, 64.

"No one dies on the floor alone."

What a sight. In a makeshift examining room in northern Guatemala, 13 optometrists and other volunteers will try to correct 3,000 sets of blurry vision with 10,000 donated pairs of glasses.

"It's the biggest recycling job in the world and the most practical," says Dr. Robert Schwartz, an optometrist from Annapolis.

He and his wife, optometrist Lila Schwartz, will spend four days in Guatemala next month. Robert and Lila belong to the Maryland chapter of Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity. VOSH might not mean a thing to people state-side, but South and Central Americans know the program well, Robert says.

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