Charlestown seniors extend a hand to staffers working through college

Retirees and workers bond across generations

April 25, 2001|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The way Louise Wetzel sees it, they're just good kids.

Wetzel is one of hundreds of residents at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville who make an annual cash donation to help pay the college tuition of young employees such as dining service workers.

Since the program began 12 years ago, Charlestown officials say the seniors have contributed more than $1 million to help 494 students through college.

"We always hear about the bad kids, you never hear about the good ones," said Wetzel, 80, who has donated "hundreds" to the cause. "Those young people are working hard and need a helping hand."

This year's Scholars Fund program is in full swing. The fund stands at $45,644 in donations accepted from 494 contributors.

Charleston officials say the contributions range from $5 to thousands of dollars. More important than the money, the gifts represent the bond that forms between Charlestown residents and the young workers.

"The students have developed relationships with the seniors that are very important to them," said Sherry Parrish, director of resident life. "What do grandparents do for their grandchildren? They support them."

One of the 32 student beneficiaries this year will be Elizabeth O'Connell. O'Connell, the oldest of four children, said the scholarships of $1,000 annually for four years help ease the financial load on her parents. To qualify, students must work at Charlestown for two years or 1,000 hours.

"Nobody realizes when you're going to college how much it costs your parents, especially when they have other children to support," O'Connell said.

O'Connell applied to work at Charlestown knowing about the scholarship benefit to college workers. But she said the gift means more after meeting many of the residents.

"I see the residents more than I see my grandparents," she said. "They ask you how school is going and how is the boy you are dating."

Resident Lillian Barker, a donor to the fund, said her relationships with the workers prompt the gift. "We get to know the young people who work here, and we get attached," Barker said. "We want them to move forward."

Barker noted that this will be her fourth year making a donation.

"Someone who benefited from the first year I was here is now graduating," Barker said.

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