THE OWEN Brown Senior Center resembled Santa's workshop Tuesday, when volunteers from the Home Depot in Columbia helped seniors make small, wooden decorative wagons.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Betty Dunne, a senior aide at the center. The Home Depot employees brought along precut kits and then assisted the seniors with hammering and gluing.
"They interacted with the seniors fabulously," Dunne said. "You would think that the Home Depot people were trained to work with seniors."
Christa Wong, one of the helpers from Home Depot, said the volunteers do not receive any special training.
"Because we work for a company like Home Depot, we are naturally people-oriented," she said, adding, "They could be like our grandparents."
Wong is part of "Team Depot," Home Depot's corporate-wide volunteer force, which conducts outreach projects in the community. The team is headed by Frank Jarrett of Owen Brown and includes employees Frankie Vinueza and Reggie Byrd.
Jarrett said most Home Depot stores have a "Team Depot" program, offering assistance to neighbors in need and helping in the community.
"It's strictly on a volunteer basis," he emphasized. The Home Depot employees volunteer on their own time, he said.
Vivi Provine, program director for the Senior Center Plus program, was thrilled with the visit. "Never has a retail establishment come and done a project like this," she said.
And the seniors loved it, too.
"They were really good. I liked their manners," said Virgie Bryan, a regular client at the center.
Helen Costa agreed. "It was very nice. I liked the way they were hammering," she said.
Home Depot was matched with the senior center with the help of Towson public relations firm Imre Communications. "We prompt Team Depot activities," said account executive Michelle Schaekel, a Columbia native. "There is a lot of focus on children, but there is also a need for the aging population in Howard County."
She said she had thought the wagon project would be good for the seniors because the wagons came in portable, prefabricated kits, and required nailing and gluing. "I thought this would be perfect as a gift for their grandchildren or as a decoration," she said.
Team Depot members enjoyed the day as much as the seniors.
"It was great," Jarrett said.
Costa echoed, "I hope they come back again."
At Oakland Mills High School, 120 juniors and seniors from teacher Kathy Avery's Cooperative Work Experience classes "adopted" three Howard County families and provided them with gifts and food through Howard Holiday Help, a local program of the Howard County Sheriff's Department.
Avery learned about the program last year through friend Judy Pasquantonio, a department employee. The department matched the students with three families and provided wish lists from each.
"The parents don't request that much," Avery said. Most of the requests were for toys for the children, she said. All the students helped in some way.
"We all participated in the brainstorming and coming up with ideas," Avery said. Some students brought gifts or food, some gave cash and others donated wrapping paper or their time. The students also sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts to raise money for gifts.
The group filled every request and more, adding gift certificates from Safeway, stockings stuffed with small gifts and batches of sugar cookies baked by Avery and Pasquantonio for each family.
The gifts were delivered to the families by members of the Sheriff's Department a week before Christmas.
Avery used the project as a hands-on lesson in philanthropy and to illustrate to the students the value of community outreach programs.
"It dovetails into the world of work," where employers encourage community service, Avery said.
The students do not know the families , and they receive no extra credit for their hard work. But, says Avery, "they get pleasure out of giving."
Many of us listened for sleigh bells on Christmas Eve when we were young. But not Owen Brown resident Susan Sitek, language arts and social studies resource teacher for Howard County public schools.
When she was a child, she listened for the sound of paper rustling. To her, the rustling signified that Santa was there and she would stay awake Christmas Eve until she was sure he had made it into her home.
"My house had no chimney, so I was very concerned about him getting in," Sitek recalled. So she would slip out of bed and listen from the top of the steps. Upon hearing that magic sound, she would promptly fall asleep - right there on the floor.
"Maybe I knew it was OK, after hearing the paper rustle," she said. She never heard Santa leave.
"I always wondered how he got out of there," she said.