For volunteers on the go, the rewards are plenty


January 14, 2000|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THERE MAY well be something special about this little corner of Howard County: It attracts the nicest of people. Karen Spranza and her husband, Ken, are a case in point. A Navy couple who had settled in the Washington area, they came upon Savage Mill, our own official tourist attraction. They fell in love with the mill and with Savage, so when a house became available five years ago on Washington Street, in they moved.

So far so good. But Karen Spranza felt a bit at loose ends. Her mother suggested she drive for Meals on Wheels as a way of getting to know her neighbors and having a meaningful pursuit. That was four years and eight months ago and Spranza is still going strong.

That's not uncommon, says Jeanette Lazarofsky, program administrator. People volunteer to serve or drive and somehow get hooked. She started as a volunteer 15 years ago when her son Marc was 4. He's a freshman in college now and drives for Meals on Wheels when he's home on break.

Lazarofsky warns all her volunteers. "Watch out. This could be you in a few years," she'll say, pointing to herself.

Spranza, too, may be on her way to raising a Meals on Wheels family. She's taken her mother along when she delivers the meals. When her grandchildren, Antonio Janifer, 8, and his sister Tarym, 6, are around, she takes them. "If you're here on Wednesday," she says half in fun, "you're coming with me."

The program administrator and the volunteer agree the rewards are great, for volunteers and clients. "People's eyes light up when they see you," says Spranza.

Beyond the tangible benefit of getting nutritious meals to those who are shut in or simply cannot cook, Lazarofsky points to the intangible ones. The weekday meal service provides a welcome diversion to many homebound people. Often the meal driver will sit and chat for a few minutes or perhaps join the client for lunch.

Lazarofsky is particularly proud of the volunteers' dedication. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the program in the county, and a half-dozen volunteers have served since its inception.

Unlike Meals on Wheels programs in other places, the Howard County group has no waiting list. Clients can be served one or two days after signing up for the service.

"You don't want to get a phone call from a 90-year-old coming home from the hospital and tell her she's on a waiting list," Lazarofsky says, crediting the 200 volunteers who package and deliver the meals.

Changes have been made in the program since it started. While the elderly remain the largest part of the client base, a growing number of middle-aged clients with degenerative conditions who stay in their homes use the service when necessary. Likewise, Meals on Wheels will deliver to women who are required to stay in bed during pregnancy.

For the past two years, the service has provided the approximately 100 daily clients with not only a cheerful card on their birthdays -- often made by Scout troops -- but also a small gift. Last year's gift was an insulated mug. This year's is a night light.

This service is available to anyone in Howard County who cannot cook or get out to shop for food. While there is a charge for the meals, prices are based on a sliding scale determined by income.

Information: Meals on Wheels, 410-730-9476.

TV-free victors rewarded

Last Sunday afternoon, state Sen. Martin G. Madden held a reception for elementary school pupils who had successfully completed his TV-Free 10-Day Challenge. Among those honored were pupils from Hammond, Laurel Woods, Forest Ridge and Gorman Crossing elementaries and several home-schooled children.

Susan Costenbader, a Gorman Crossing mom, reports that this was a grand affair. Many families had attended services earlier that day, so everyone was well-dressed. "I didn't see any T-shirts or sneakers there," she said.

The reception in the Great Room at Historic Savage Mill was for parents and honorees only -- TV-watching siblings were not in evidence. Madden bestowed senatorial citations from the state for successfully completing the challenge. Participants told how they had spent their non-TV time. Reading Harry Potter books and bike riding were among the favorite activities.

Costenbader, whose son, Andrew, is a first-grader at Gorman Crossing, found the challenge easier than expected but faced a few rough moments. The family rode bikes through their Rocky Gorge streets, and read stories together. The real test, though, came at a family party for the 60th birthday of Andrew's grandfather, Robert Johannesen. An adult put on a video for the children and Andrew found it difficult not to watch as all the other children were doing so. But he persevered and earned the right to attend the reception. His proud mom plans to frame the certificate.

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