Retirees take up the slack

Spirit of voluntarism keeps parks, churches and senior centers going

January 19, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After 30 years as the Baltimore Zoo's curator of reptiles, one would think Frank Groves has had enough of snakes and slimy creatures. Not so. In his retirement, the 79-year-old cleans the snake cages at Piney Run Nature Center in South Carroll.

"I like to keep my hand in my work," said Groves, who also volunteers four hours a week for his former employer.

Groves is one of hundreds of senior volunteers who give their time, knowledge and energy to parks, senior centers, churches and more in Carroll County.

Lynette Brewer, Carroll County's community services supervisor who oversees the five senior centers, said she has noticed a marked change in the age and character of volunteers.

"Ten years ago, the volunteers were older, in their late 60s and 70s," she said. "They were looking to fill a need for themselves. The new volunteer is newly retired, physically healthy and still in the work mode. Their focus is different as to why they volunteer. These volunteers don't need to be needed; they just need to be active."

"I would estimate my senior volunteers give 250 to 300 hours a month," said Elaine Sweitzer, a naturalist at Piney Run who coordinates volunteers. "Their productivity is amazing. If we had to pay these people as employees, the county would have to shut down. They couldn't afford it."

Sweitzer said she has 17 senior volunteers who help regularly, each giving about six hours a week.

Jo Ann Hunter, acting manager of Hashawha Environmental Center and Bear Branch, said senior volunteers are very reliable.

"Many, many seniors travel and are extremely active," she said. "But they usually plan ahead, and they don't have surprise cancellations because of issues like a sick child."

Managers at the county's five senior centers said volunteers put in hundreds of hours at the centers, assisting in craft activities, serving meals and planning dances.

In Westminster, the senior center is the only one that serves a noon and evening meal. Because of that, more volunteers are needed in the kitchen and to serve meals.

"One of the big functions of the senior center is to serve a hot meal," said Charlene Fischer, manager of the center. "Our senior volunteers help serve the meals, and they work in the kitchen. We look at our volunteers as providing a lot of manpower."

Debbie Shindle, manager of Mount Airy Senior Center, and Renee Deiaco, manager of North Carroll Senior Center, agreed.

"We have a limited staff of one and a half," Shindle said. "Without our volunteers we would not be able to provide the kinds of services we do."

Frances Barnes of Hampstead started volunteering at the North Carroll center 12 years ago by answering phones.

"I'm a workaholic, I'll tell you that right off the bat," Barnes said. "I average four to five hours a day here and sometimes I do things at home. We had an accountant here once and he was talking about how much money we save the center. But I don't think about the hours. I just enjoy doing it."

Manchester volunteer Mary Blilhart said she has been volunteering there at least 16 years.

"Ever since we had a senior center," Blilhart said. "I enjoy doing it, whatever needs to be done. I don't like sitting around."

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