Communication volunteers are as diverse as the causes that absorb their free time and energies. Nine individuals and four organizations in the Washington area were honored this week by the National Center for Voluntary Action, Woodward and Lothrop and the comestic firm of Germaine Monteil. The following is a look at the five District winners. Veronica Maz
The House of Ruth, a home and counseling center for the District's homeless and destitute women, was opened in 1975 by Veronica Maz, 43, a former sociology professor, in a rundown, 19-room Victorian rowhouse at 459 Massachusetts Ave. She had previously worked for five years in a soup kitchen that she organized in 1970 and had started a women's halfway house. House of Ruth is now a freshly painted canter of activity, with most of the work dome by the formerly homeless women who live there.
Maz has opened another home for battered, aboused women at 1215 New Jersey Avenue NW. Four women and 10 children made the rowhouse their temporary home last week, and Maz expects it to be filled this week.
"It just shows the need that is there," Maz said. "Homeless women still do not have places to go as men do, like the Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army. They are all geared to men. And where does an abused wife go? These people need places they can really rest awhile, places where they can collect their thoughts and get themselves together."
She has little faith that government and large organization will take care of the need. She prefers to rely on the manpower and contributions of individuals and small firms.
"The people are great. They are the ones that get things done," Maz said. "The big, powerful organizations - they have nice words, but if I waited for their support, I'd still be teaching sociology."
Maz can cite histories of a dozen House of Ruth residents within a few minutes: The widow abandoned by her sons and daughters and left with meagre resources; the young girl passing through "who fell sick and had no where to go; the former housewife whose husband divorced her and took custody of her children after she was committed to a mental institution.
The daughter of a middle-class Pennsylvania family, Maz earned a doctorate in sociology in the University of Pittsburg in the 60s and taught research methods in sociology at several colleges and universities.
She recalls "roaming around downtown Washington with some of my students" while teaching at Georgetown in the late 60s.
"I saw a man collapse in front of me, and I remember how I walked around him, got into my car and drove off," Maz said. "That really bothered me later. Call it a guilty conscience, I don't know , but the incident drew me back."
That was when she started the soup kitchen at North Capitol and K Streets NW.
She continued to teach while running the kitchen, but finally left the University when House of Ruth opened. Now she lives as the residents do, wearing donated clothes, eating donated food.
"I don't need a thing," she said. "You'd be surprised how little you actually need. There's a big difference between what you want and what you need."
Maz, who never married, claims she's doing what she wants to do. Looking back on her academic life, she sees "a huge gap between what we teach about poverty and what poverty really is." Bertha Atkins
Bertha Atkins knows what it is to struggle. She learned while growing up as a Jewish child in Germany when Hitler came into power.
That was more than 30 years ago but the lessons she learned then about not giving up have stood her in good stead in her second, long-terms struggle - bettering conditions at Forest Haven, the District's home for the mentally retarded.
Atkins and her husband Morris have had a child at Forest Haven for more than 10 years. In that time, Mrs. Atkins have kept a close eye on the conditions at the institution, which had been described in the past as "dehumanizing and degrading." The House District Committee said in December that it was among the worst facilities forthe mentally retarded in the country.
Mrs. Atkins said she couls not speak in specifics about what she calls the "horrible" conditions at Forest Haven becuse law suits are still pending against the institution.
Numerous news articles have described beatings and a rape that have occurred there and the inadequate attention given to the Forest Haven residents for years.
Mrs. Atkins believes that more direct-care workers would minimize Forest Haven troubles. She has became a lobbyist for the institution, testifying many times before the District City Council and Congress about the conditions at the institution.
Mrs. Atkins who worked full time as a library technician at the Martin Luther King Library, has served eight years as president of Friends of Forest Haven, an organization composed mainly of parents who have children living there. She's president now for another two-year term.
She said that Friends of Forest Haven has about 500 members, although no more 100 form its active core.
"The work so far has drawn attention to Forest Haven, and I like to think we have some indications the situation will improve," she said. "But I will not say anything until I see it. Until then I will keep asking for what is needed."
Mrs. Atkins, 60, remembers many good times with her large family in Germany before Hitler came to power and her life was restricted. No movies, no dining in restaurants, no swimming in public pools. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, her brothers and sisters filtered into the United States but her parents were shipped off to concentration camps. Her mother died in one. Her father survived the Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia and finally came to the United States in the late 40s.
In Brooklyn, she worked as a housemaid and later studied sewing. In 1947 she moved to New York and worked as a seamstress in a women's clothing store. Later she trained as a library technician.
Marge Wilber has been getting awards ever since she came up with a new idea of fighting crime. An editor with the State Department. Wilber in 1972 won the Action award given to federal employee volunteers after she organize a Crime Stoppers Club, a group of about 400 eight- to 12-year-olds whose motto is to stop crime by not committing any.
The club just passed its 10th anniversary, an even Wilber did not foresee when she formed the club in 1967 with a few neighborhood boys who lived near her home at 1366 South Carolinea Ave. SE. The group now meets under the sponsorship of 15 elementary schools in the District.
In addition to her Crime Stopper activities, Wilber recently was elected a commissioner of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission Ward 6B.
A divorcee and a native of South Carolina, Wilber said she rarely give a thought to why she focused on attcking crime but she thinks having grown up in the south was a contributer.
"I remember always seeing newspaper photos of black prison inmates or captured black criminals. In the back of my mind the thought stayed that someone, somewhere down the line wasn't getting a fair shake," she said. "Even if it was only the chance to keep away from crime. everyone needs that."
About 90 per cent of the club's current members is black, and there are fledgling Crime Stopper clubs for girls.
"We want to keep boys and girls separate because they don't get along very well at this age."
Wilber said she got the idea for the club from a newspaper article giving crime statistics. The story noted that the highest percentage of offenders were juveniles.
"I think I started the club right then," she said. "It seemed like such an urgent need."
Besides the 400 active members who regularly meets in schools, private homes and church halls in the District, and additional 5,000 youngsters have been Crime Stoppers in the past.
She believes a knowledge of the law helps children not to break it, so Crime Stopper meetings often include study of legal terms and talks by police officers and city officials.
Wilber holds a degree in English from South Carolina State University and taught in South Carolina public schools two years before coming to Washington.
Sadie Crawford and Sophie Silfen
Sadie and Sophie. Their names go together as well as they get along. Their volunteer work is among the most painstaking and time consuming of all tasks - work geared to produce short tempers or just plain fatigue.
The two retired women, inseparable since taking on their latest two-year project, translate the printed words into raised words for the blind. They are Braille transcribers, and together they put in about 60 hours a week. Their current project is transcribing from print into Braille a 16-lesson instructrion manual for teaching mathematics to the blind, to be published by the Library of Congress, Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
The job started in 1975 with the actual transcribing of algebraic formulas to their raised correspondents in Braille. Now the project is in final stages.
"Thank fortune we don't have to work these problems to get this thing done," said Mrs. George Crawford of Chevy Chase, better known as Sadie to Library of Congress colleagues. Spry and sassy at 71, she doesn't get tired poring over the lengthy Braille manuscripts.She seems to collect energy.
Both Sadie and Sophie Silfen, 63, who lives in Northwest Washington, do most of their work in the quiet Library of Congress chambers or alone in their own homes. They both have been recognized by the National Braille Association.
Sadie Crawford, a widow since 1965, is a pioneer in recruiting volunteers to do Braille transcription. She discovered Braille at a Washington cocktail party back in the 1930s.
"The hostess said this Braille slate up on the wall," Sadie recalls. "I'd never seen one before and it got me very curious as to what it was all about. That party started me Brailling."
The Red Cross certified her as a Braille transcriber in 1940 after several hours of training and the Library of Congress cretified her in 1950. After translating textbooks and other literary material into Braille, she took up transcribing math, a more complex job.
In 1958, she and another Braille transcriber started Volunteer Braille Services with nine volunteers. It now operates with 50 volunteers working out of the Washington Hebrew Congregation at 3935 Macomb St. NW.
Volunteering was only natural for Sadie. With an extensive college education with a masters in literature and history from Ohio State University, she wanted to put her knowledge into work. She had no children.
Sophie met Sadie when she took Braille transcription training from Volunteer Braille Services in 1967. She does not like seem a likely candidate for volunteering. Most of her life was spent to meet ends meet herself.
Sophie, who still carries her accent from New York's Lower East Side, where her Austrian parents immigrated early in this century, describes herself as "a dead end kid." She remembers the tenements where she and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up.
After working 15 years as a stenographer in Brooklyn, Sophie joined the WACs and spent 23 years as an administrative assistant.Traveling to countries to all over the world, she gave little thought to what she would do after her Army career until shortly before her retirement in 1966.
"I was working at the White House then and I overheard another girl talking about what she would do when she got out. She said she was going to take up Braille," Sophie said. "I had little idea of what Braille was at the time, but it stayed in the back of my mind. I took training at Volunteer Braille Services right after I retired. I wanted something that would take me out from behind the typewriter."
Sophie, certified as a transcriber in 1966, lives on a fixed income - her pension from the Army - but has never considered working again to make money.
"You can get by on a minimum income, and get lost on a big one - depends on what you think is important," Sophie said.