Stroke victims get a chance to socialize

January 12, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

The seven men who met at Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia on a recent Thursday braved ice and cold for the sheer joy of getting together to talk and socialize.

But that wasn't always the nature of the weekly SPRING Buds group, which was started eight years ago by the county's Office on Aging as a support group for men who had suffered strokes.

"Disability was a strong point from the beginning," said Dorothy Keczmerski, a social worker who coordinates 10 support groups under SPRING (Senior Peer Resources: Individuals, Networks and Groups).

The groups provide support and discussions for senior citizens wrestling with a variety of issues, including low vision, hearing loss, arthritis and bereavement.

Over time, however, "the focus of the Buds group has become more blurred. . . . When groups go on for a long time, they become more of a friendship circle," Ms. Keczmerski said.

Marty Chaitovitz, 64, who has been leading the Buds for about five years, agrees, noting that the group gradually has shifted from discussions involving medical problems to more of social forum.

"Our basic focus is to talk about this, that and anything that comes up, from politics, sports, old times, new times and what are you going to do on New Year's Eve," Mr. Chaitovitz said.

He said the discussions sometimes take a serious turn.

"If any problem comes up, whether it has to do with living with your children, living alone or health problems, we know we can bring those things up if we want to; we don't push ourselves," he said. "One of the most important things that all of the SPRING groups heed, however, is confidentiality."

At a recent meeting, the discussion was casual and far-ranging.

"Missed you last Thursday," Mr. Chaitovitz said as he greeted 60-year-old Don Morgan, the youngest member of the group.

Mr. Morgan, an Elkridge resident who said he had spent that day with an old friend he hadn't seen in 30 years, greeted fellow members cheerfully as he distributed calendars he had received from a nearby bank.

"Anyone care for a lollipop?" asked John Paul Ward, an 82-year-old Columbia resident who offered around a sack full of the candies.

Mr. Ward, who has been a member since the group's beginning, is a former clown who attends the Florence Bain center every day, drawing as many smiles as he can with his lollipops.

The conversation began with talk about New Year's Eve celebrations of the past in Times Square and more recent ones at dinner theaters and in front of the fireplace.

During the 90-minute meeting, the group covered a variety of topics, from Elvis Presley stamps to a brewery in Pennsylvania that keeps a draft beer on tap and available for the public.

More important for the members than the topics were their reasons for being there.

"I can pass the time with a lot of friends, young and old," said Bill Seebach, a 77-year-old Ellicott City resident and retired Marine.

Male companionship is the draw for William Kirkpatrick, an 81-year-old Ellicott City resident and retired federal employee.

"At the center, the males are in the minority," Mr. Kirkpatrick said.

Mr. Morgan, who retired from teaching in Montgomery County three years ago because of health problems, said he was seeking a social forum.

"It makes no difference to me whether there are men or women in the group. . . . I wanted some more adult companionship," he said.

Others said the group plays an important part in their lives.

"I don't know what I would do if it wasn't for the center and this group," Mr. Ward said. "This is my lifeline. . . . Just like the name 'Buds' implies we are friends."

For further information about SPRING Buds and other SPRING support groups, call Ms. Keczmerski at 313-7213.

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