Every Monday morning, Lois Seidler lends her eyes to 86-year-old Ana Constandaky -- an exchange that benefits both of them.
"She brings me life," says Mrs. Constandaky, a blind Columbia resident helped by Ms. Seidler, who does extensive volunteer work with the blind. "Lois writes my checks and does my laundry. . . . She knows how to handle blind people as though she is a specialist."
Ms. Seidler, 61, of Owen Brown village has become an important resource for Howard County's blind community. She works one-on-one with those who have vision problems and helps out with two Insighters support groups at Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia.
"It's always fun," she said. "It's hard to realize that I have been doing this for seven years."
In December, Ms. Seidler became the first recipient of the Martin Cohn Renewal of Life Award, presented by the Senior Peer Resources, Individuals, Networks and Groups program, which runs 11 support groups at the senior center. The award is named for the late Martin Cohn, who was active in SPRING.
"Lois is worth her weight in gold," said Dorothy Keczmerski, coordinator of the SPRING program. "She has a wonderful way of helping people to look on the bright side of life and has been a wholehearted participant in both low-vision groups."
Ms. Seidler's work with the blind began seven years ago, when she retired from her position as a dietitian with the U.S. Public Health Service and was looking to do volunteer work.
"At first, I didn't find anything that really thrilled me, and I knew that I did not want to chauffeur people around," Ms. Seidler said.
But through a former colleague who was losing her sight, Ms. Seidler learned about SPRING's support group for people with vision problems.
"As a former administrator, I knew that I could balance checkbooks and write checks," she said. "I asked them, 'What do you want me to do?' That's how it has worked ever since."
In addition to her work with SPRING, Ms. Seidler spends a couple of hours each week with three blind people, including Mrs. Constandaky, helping them with chores and errands.
She reads letters or books to them, helps them to operate new equipment and sets them up with various public agencies when a problem arises. Sometimes she drives them to doctor's appointments or takes them shopping.
"She has a great, great understanding," Mrs. Constandaky said. "It's a gift. . . . I love her like a granddaughter."
Ms. Seidler, who travels extensively, also takes copious notes when she is on the road in order to share her experiences with her blind acquaintances.
"I've learned to look at things better when I am traveling because I have to be able to describe the details that make things come alive for people who cannot see," she said.
In the course of her volunteer work, Ms. Seidler has developed some close friendships.
"What they need the most is someone who will come on a regular basis and whom they can rely on," Ms. Seidler said. "We probably know more about each other than old friends would, because an important part of this kind of relationship is having someone to talk to; I really feel like family."
And although she received an award for her volunteer work, Ms. Seidler doesn't view her commitment as anything special.
"If you need help, you ought to ask for it," she said. "There are people who enjoy being the helper."