Careers as volunteers

Commitment: Baltimore County honors people who have given hundreds or thousands of hours to help seniors.

May 18, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

It's exhausting just listening to Joe Coleman and Paul Cummins talk about being retired.

Maybe that's because they never really were.

At age 75, Coleman gives free tax advice and medical insurance tips to senior citizens when he's not at his other job as president of a senior center in Dundalk.

"I never really retired," says the former financial manager for Lockheed Martin Corp. who spouts one liners in a rapid-fire patter. "I just don't get paid anymore."

"I retired on February 29, 1988," he continues. "I went into volunteer work the next day, March 1."

Paul Cummins, age 65, a retired Blue Cross/Blue Shield executive, runs the Senior Cyber Net program at Towson University, teaching homebound senior citizens how to use e-mail and the Internet.

"All these years I've accumulated my portfolio of experience that allows me to redo these things and apply them to the common good," says Cummins, who says he works more than 180 hours a month for free.

The two men were among 34 people honored this week by the Baltimore County Department of Aging as "Golden Volunteers" for giving more than 1,000 hours of their time last year.

The county also recognized 1,400 other senior volunteers during its 23rd annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon. The honorees worked at least 100 hours in such jobs as helping truant teen-agers get back to school, selling handicrafts and acting as nursing home ombudsman.

Coleman and Cummins had no transition between work and retirement.

"I'm one of them type-A types," Coleman says of his inability to slow down.

Coleman, who lives in Parkville, says he spends more than 40 hours a week as a volunteer. He gives tax and financial advice as a counselor for AARP and the county's Department of Aging. He's also in his second year as president of the Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk, which has 1,720 members.

What drives him?

"It's the old slogan of people helping people," he explains. "Everybody who helps is a point of light."

Cummins, too, has made a career out of retirement. He says he doesn't feel a need to travel: He did plenty of that as a commander in the Naval Reserve. His children live in California, and he's "not that enamored with working around the house."

For a while after he stopped working in 1992, Cummins, a Hereford resident, served as a chaplain at Stella Maris Hospice in Towson.

A year ago, he organized the Senior Cyber Net program at Towson University. The program, he says, is closing the "digital divide and the generational divide" by giving computers to low-income senior citizens, some of whom are homebound, and teaching them to use the Internet and send e-mail. In the past year, his program placed nearly 40 computers with seniors.

"There's no question it's made a significant difference. I get testimonial e-mail. One woman who lives in a five-story high-rise on Harford Road was an introvert. We gave her a computer. She is now a leader in that building," he says.

Seeing his program change people's lives, he says, is reason enough to work for free.

After all, he asks, why waste all the knowledge he gleaned in the working world?

"It's like you're a concert pianist, and you're at the height of experience," Cummins says. "Why quit?"

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