A tough job that many will do gladly Volunteering: At Don Miller, house work is never done, on World AIDS Day or any other.

December 02, 1997|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Want to hear about Karen Jungerman's World AIDS Day? It started before 7 a.m. "It was nothing out of the ordinary."

Karen soldiered into the Don Miller House in Baltimore, a residential home for people with AIDS. It has five residents right now. Meaning Karen made five different meals: grits, cheese and eggs, toast and bacon, and scrapple. No, scrapple was the other day. Each day runs smack into the next.

Karen then cleaned the five rooms of this old house, changed the sheets on five beds, and washed the clothes of the five residents. After a few calls to Johns Hopkins to re-fill meds, Karen dispensed said meds. One man needed help getting to rehab; another resident needed counseling. And dinner plans needed to be drawn.

"We try to have a sit-down dinner," she says.

Others in Maryland had other plans for World AIDS Day -- candlelight vigils, a quilt display, panel discussions featuring medical experts. The AIDS Memorial Quilt went online nationally, and in San Francisco, the highly acclaimed AIDS Research Institute opened.

And in one house in Baltimore, volunteer Karen Jungerman mopped the floor. Then, a nurse needed to be paged, and darned if another resident wasn't calling Karen to do something (there being just one of her) when a "misunderstanding" occurred between two residents. No details offered. Just "some inappropriate behavior" Karen had to straighten out. The episode was later upgraded to "a crisis."

All before 10 a.m. on World AIDS Day.

"When she came downstairs," says Shirley McGriff, her boss at the home, "Karen was really sweating." You know it. "Sweat was coming off my nose," Karen says. "It was my roughest day in three months of volunteering here.

"I felt really whacked out."

But you know the worst part of today? she asks. She got into an argument with someone at The Sun. The paper has stopped coming to the Don Miller House, something about a bill not being paid. That's all she needed on World AIDS Day. Or any day.

In the customary lull at lunch time, Karen hugs her black coffee and rests her dogs. Her shift ends at 3 p.m. It's 1: 30 p.m., and Aaron Skrypski from Ohio has just begun his shift. He plans on volunteering here for two years until entering Yale Divinity School. Aaron, 22, lives in a parsonage in Canton. He lives on a $200 monthly stipend, which includes bus fare. It takes him an hour to get to work.

Six full-time volunteers work at this house and the other Don Miller House next door. A nonprofit group, AIDS Interfaith Residential Services, operates these homes for people with AIDS. Another 80 volunteers come and go, here and there. People like Charles, Troy, Curtis, Max and others live here -- until they get better, or at least get better enough to live somewhere else. The others, well, some have died here.

"Max's sheets need to be folded," Karen tells Aaron.

"OK."

Spend two minutes with Aaron and you'll believe he'll do any chore benevolently. He lowers himself by the stairs into the basement, home to the community washer and dryer. Aaron folds Max's clothes, including a Harvard T-shirt. The crimson hasn't faded. Aaron folds the shirt crisply.

"This experience is teaching me to be a servant and how to care for someone," he says. "I don't think I could learn this in divinity school."

Aaron moves to the kitchen, where the cereal boxes are labeled -- Quaker's Oats, Honey and Raisin cereal has Max's name on it. The dishwasher needs unloading and the silverware toweling off. Aaron then wedges the lunch dishes into the dishwasher. The bowls resist -- just like in any house, any day of the week.

"World AIDS Day is good for rallying people," Aaron says. "But it also makes me sad because tomorrow we will still have 10 people living in these houses." Ten people who still need a lot of help, he says.

Aaron drops in on Troy, a young guy spending the day finishing his science assignment. He's earning his G.E.D. while he lives here. Karen interrupts to hand him his meds. The pills seem clunky and numerous. He asks for cold water to wash them down. Karen does this for him, too.

Heck, this is the easy part of the job. Try having a morning like she had. Try, if you may, to balance the basic needs of five sick people -- plus an in-house "crisis."

Try getting your newspaper delivered again.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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