Volunteer bank finds demand outstrips helpers

December 29, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

In its initial month of operation, the first Maryland-based volunteer bank can't keep up with the demand.

"If we had 50 volunteers right now, we could keep them busy. There have been people out there that we have not been able to help," said Sandra O. Jackson, one of three women who founded and operate Partners in Care.

The volunteer-service credit bank, based at North Arundel Hospital, has 13 volunteers and is interviewing and screening nearly that many more. What it needs mostly is drivers.

Partners in Care is the latest entry in a growing national field of about 85 volunteer-service credit programs, all aimed at avoiding costly medical and nursing care by helping people stay in their own homes.

Volunteers earn credits for the time they spend assisting others, then use those credits to get help for themselves or donate them to someone else.

Since Dec. 1, when the Glen Burnie network opened, six elderly or disabled people have been helped with such things as grocery shopping and transportation.

Among them is 50-year-old Anita Marsh of Glen Burnie, who needs rides three times a week to physical therapy appointments that are helping her regain the use of her limbs.

For several months, Mrs. Marsh said, she was taking cabs. But she had to wait for the right one. She needs help getting in and out of the car and drivers often did not readily assist her.

During an hour-long wait for a taxi this fall, a receptionist at the physical therapy office told Ms. Marsh that a volunteer center was to start soon and might be able to help her.

It did. George Seiler Jr. of Linthicum has been taking Ms. Marsh to and from her appointments all month. He even helps her in and out of the car.

But, said Ms. Jackson, he probably will not be able to keep up the pace next month, and the search has begun for another volunteer who can help.

Ms. Marsh, in turn, plans to return the favor and help replenish the volunteer bank. "I want to start some volunteer work. It's not good to be stuck in the house all the time," she said.

Ms. Jackson said the organization's progress is on track.

"It's how we hoped to be doing. A lot of people who we had talked to before said they thought it would be so difficult to get started. We need more and more drivers. That was what everyone in social services in the county had told us," she said.

People have been referred to Partners in Care by the Department of Social Services, an agency that finds temporary jobs for nurses and North Arundel Hospital. Volunteers are given a brief period of training in several areas: learning to help people who use canes and walkers and need help maneuvering, discussing attitudes toward aging and privacy, and handling medical questions.

The concept of swapping services within a community is a time-tested one, visible in established programs that include baby-sitting co-ops and blood banks. But applying it to the needs of the infirm was pioneered in the last decade, said Mark R. Meiners, who runs the Volunteer Service Credit Program at the University of Maryland College Park. The program advises volunteer banks on getting started and tracks them.

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