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Volume 13, Issue 47 ~ November 24 - November 30, 2005

We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

photo courtesy of Partners In Care
Volunteering with Partners In Care, Jack Fisher drives an 80-year-old man to the doctor one day; then his next shift might send him grocery shopping for a shut-in.

Step by step, one by one, climbing Maslow’s ladder

by Janice F. Booth

Early on a crisp fall morning, Ken Dunshee organizes volunteers from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to recoat the roofs and reskirt the foundations of trailer homes for seniors and families in need. The project is funded and organized by Partners In Care, where Dunshee is volunteer coordinator. His voice carries just a hint of the farm and his Iowa childhood as he describes the day’s work to the Johns Hopkins team that has dedicated its annual Day of Caring to this project.

At 69, Dunshee has worked as a volunteer for a dozen years. Early retirement ended a notable career with the National Security Agency — but didn’t quiet his dynamic energy. Since 1994, Dunshee has built a second and equally rewarding career, drawing on leadership, organizational and handyman skills honed first in his childhood on the farm, then in his years in government.

“I see true appreciation when I replace a lock or add a handrail in someone’s bathtub,” he says. “If everyone would help, there wouldn’t be much for me to do.”

Ann Stahl, 75, has followed a similar path in retirement. After 40 years in counseling and education, she uses some of her free time and her considerable organizational skills to develop a volunteers’ database and manage accounts for Partners In Care.

“I feel like I can make a contribution here,” she says. “And staying involved in the community keeps me in touch with ways to help, and that helps me as well. I learn a lot from the people we help. They make me aware of what’s coming so I can be prepared. I think about what I need to do to be ready for whatever comes next [in my own life.]”

Jack Fisher, 74, agrees that volunteering works for him as well as for the people he helps.

“We need to stay involved,” he says. “I watch the people I drive to doctors’ appointments. I listen to them talk. Some of the old folks are sharp. They’re telling stories, asking questions, playing cards. They’re willing to try, willing to change their minds.

“Then I look at someone sitting in front of a TV or in the corner. When I talk to him, he tells me his opinion, the same opinion he’s had for 30 years. He doesn’t want to talk about other ideas or change his mind. He won’t learn new things. He’s just drying up.”

Jack has been volunteering since 1994. He drives folks to appointments, does grocery shopping for the home-bound, pays visits delivering his wife Eleanor’s home-baked cookies. His twinkling Irish charm brightens the day for many shut-ins, and he relishes the friendships he builds through his volunteer work.

“People need to stay involved. Don’t ever close your mind. Look for new ideas; ask questions. That’s what I’ve learned,” Fisher says of his 15-year stint as a Partner in Care.


Tell you what it means to me!

Aretha Franklin knew what she was singing in that soulful song. In virtually the same words, Dunshee, Stahl and Fisher speak of the belonging, appreciation and accomplishment they derive from their work as volunteers. After vigorous and demanding careers, there is more for them to do, places and people who need what they have to offer. Whether one dedicates most of one’s spare time, a few days or a few hours each week or an occasional hour or morning, needs are met — on both ends.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that creatures are driven by what he termed a hierarchy of needs that defines those essential elements of life that not only keep us alive but that compel us to act and that motivate us to achieve. The most fundamental needs are physiological: food and drink, rest and health, safety, shelter and protection. Without these we die. But supplied with these alone, human beings still may fade.

To flourish, psychological needs must be satisfied as well. Humans (and perhaps animals) require a sense of belonging: a place, a family or a group. From that group we seek esteem — self-respect as well as respect and admiration of others. For ourselves and our group we are motivated to achieve our potential, to pursue the greater good. A deficit in one or more of our psychological as well as our physiological needs could vanquish us.

Thus to thrive, we require more than food, shelter and health care. We need to feel that we are respected and needed. We need to feel we belong somewhere, to someone or some community. Research has shown us that infants who lack nurturing sicken and die, though there seems no physical reason for it. Just as at life’s beginning, so at its conclusion.

photo by Janice Booth
Ann Stahl and JoAnn Orzechowski plan and manage Partners In Care projects, matching needs with skills.

Will You Still Feed Me

Will you still need me, when I’m 64?

Imagine the resonance for former Beatle Paul McCartney, singing those famous lyrics now that he is indeed 64.

As we become less independent, even infirm through illness and aging, the struggle to satisfy our physical and psychological needs becomes more compelling and more difficult. That’s why responsible communities, government agencies and charitable organizations step in to provide both physical and, hopefully, psychological well-being among our elders.

JoAnn Orzechowski, a retired registered nurse, has spent much of her life working with agencies including the Department of Aging and Family and Children’s Services. She’s specialized in helping elderly people remain independent in their own homes or in places that meet their needs. In retirement, Orzechowski applies the same skills to finding the right assistance for the clients who call Partners In Care for help with problems large or small.

While Orzechowski helps her clients meet their needs, her needs are being met as well. “As a nurse I need to contribute, fill a need, a gap, and use my skills,” she says. “I always feel like there’s more to do.”

As part of a cohesive and successful volunteer program and community, she continues to grow as a professional and a self-actualized being.

The community within Partners In Care nourishes other volunteerism as well. “The leadership is very supportive of the volunteers,” says Ann Stahl. “The volunteer sets the limits and is free to say yes or no to a request for service.”

Jack Fisher speaks enthusiastically of the recognition dinner and holiday party that bring the volunteers together each year for celebration and camaraderie.

I Get By – With a little help from my friends

Last year, Partners In Care organized more than 17,000 hours of volunteer time. Jack Fisher — and lots of other volunteers — drove more than 67,000 miles, providing 1,750 rides for senior citizens in need of transportation to medical appointments or to visit a sick friend. Folks like Ken Dunshee completed some 200 handyman projects, putting new locks on doors, new washers in faucets, safety rails in showers. Volunteers installed more than 190 pieces of safety equipment, making the homes of elderly residents safer and more comfortable. Partners In Care organized teen volunteers to rake and clean 40 of their elderly neighbors’ yards through our public schools’ Service Learning Program.

That’s a whole lot of friendly help — given and received — and a whole lot of good feelings earned, making for esteem and a sense of accomplishment all around. Planning and managing these projects, matching needs with skills requires lots of teamwork from Ann Stahl, JoAnn Orzechowski and the other volunteers and staff at Partners In Care.

Do you agonize over what you should of, could of, would of done to help your neighbor - Last week when she lost her cat, and you really didn’t have time to help hunt for it? - Last month when you donated blood and realized you hadn’t done that in over a year? - Last year during that big snowstorm when you volunteered your SUV for rides to get groceries or make hospital runs — but then you caught a cold and couldn’t help? You could be one of these volunteers.

Volunteering at agencies like Partners In Care may be a cure for those guilt-headaches and regrets-blues for all of us volunteer-wanna-be’s. Your local church may have a program you can help with. Your neighbor or friend may already be working on a volunteer project and welcome your help.

The road to old age is one we’ll all travel, which is why Partners In Care’s by-word is reciprocity. Partners In Care works as the volunteers’ broker and bank, keeping track of what’s needed, who can help, when and where. I, for example, can help someone. Maybe not all the time, not every time, but there is a time and a way I can lend a hand. That time I volunteer gets scored and stored so that a few months or years from now, when I need a helping hand, someone will return the favor.

photo courtesy of Partners In Care
Partners In Care organized teen volunteers to rake and clean 40 of their elderly neighbors’ yards through the schools’ Service Learning Program.

When you’re down and troubled - And you need a helping hand

Not long ago, Partners In Care got a call from a 92-year-old Southern Anne Arundel man needing a ride to his eye treatment in Prince George’s County. He is a proud man, and he called Partners In Care because he had heard they would let him find a way to help in return. His proposal: Since he was fluent in French, he stood ready to provide French translations. Sooner or later, someone might need a letter translated.

Whatever skill you have to offer, we’ll put in the talent bank. That’s the motto at Partners In Care.

Imagine being agoraphobic, afraid to leave the security of your home. Through Partners In Care, over the past 10 years, two people suffering from agoraphobia have become a support team for one another. Though they’ve never met, they regularly call each other, providing friendship and solace to combat their physical isolation. How would they have found each other without a volunteers clearinghouse such as Partners In Care?

Let’s say I work full-time, but my hours are flexible. Today, I sign up with Partners In Care as a volunteer; they put me in their Service Exchange databank, along with over 1,800 of my Anne Arundel County neighbors. I might volunteer to give rides, make phone calls, help with grocery shopping, do yard work or minor home repairs.

Next week, or next month, 62-year-old Lynn Brown, who’s in a cast after knee surgery, calls Partners In Care and asks if someone can drive him to the doctor to have his cast removed. Perhaps Lynn Brown lives just two houses away from me, or two miles, or even 20 miles, and I were willing to drive. If we don’t know one another, he wouldn’t ask me for a ride, nor would I volunteer a ride.

But Partners In Care connects a person’s need with another’s ability. Using a database, Partners In Care calls volunteers searching for one who can give Mr. Brown a ride. It may take eight calls, eight no’s before finding someone available to drive. Mr. Brown only made one phone call, and he receives only one call back with the good news that his trip to the doctor is all set.

As a volunteer myself, I feel free to say Okay or I can’t do it. I wasn’t going to hurt Mr. Brown’s feelings; in fact, he wouldn’t even know I’d been asked. If I can help, I do. If I can’t, no problem, no guilt, no hurt feelings.

Six months from now, when Lynn Brown is back behind the wheel, he may be stopping by my great-uncle’s house to fix his back porch railing. You see, Mr. Brown builds houses for a living.

And so it goes.

Get Up Off of that Thing - And shake it you’ll feel better

Since 1993, Partners In Care has had one goal: to help folks in Anne Arundel County maintain their independence and their dignity. It’s the brainchild of three strong women. Maureen Cavaiola and Barbara Huston are sisters; they have advanced degrees in geriatrics and health care administration. The third partner, Sandy Jackson, also has a master’s degree in geriatrics. They’re following in the footsteps of Cavaiola and Huston’s mother, Jenny Hagan, an educator and administrator for over 35 years who knew how to mobilize people to get things accomplished.

They had a dream and a Frances Merrick Foundation Challenge Grant. North Arundel Hospital — now Washington Baltimore Hospital — donated an office and phones, and the work began.

In addition to the help with transportation and home repairs, Partners In Care has planned and executed Service Learning Projects with 500 students from Arundel, Chesapeake and Northern high schools. They organized volunteers to work on the United Way’s Day of Caring, building hand railings, repairing kitchens and porches and painting.

Recently, the Maryland General Assembly and Americorps awarded Partners In Care grants that will expand services and fund two staff members for the Ride Partners and High School Service Learning projects. Partners In Care has also been recognized as one of the top 14 “promising programs” in a federal study. The United Way recognized the important work done by Partners In Care in the form of a $5,000 grant for the Handyman Program.

We can all use a little more sense of belonging, a boost in our self-esteem, the satisfaction that comes from achieving a goal and accomplishing a task. Partners In Care helps satisfy those needs, providing people in need with willing volunteers.

To add your name to the databank, call 800-227-5500, 410-544-4800 or 301-682-5588. Look up Partners In Care at There’s a Contact Us button. Write to Partners In Care, 348A Ritchie Highway, Severna Park, MD 21146. You might slip a donation in the envelope with your volunteer letter; they’ll be delighted with both your help and any money.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.