Community 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 cosmetic firm of Germaine Monteil. The following is a look at the four Maryland winners.
Dr. Herman Meyersburg
Mobile Medical Care Inc., which Dr. Herman Meyersburg of Kensington, Md., helped found with six other physicians several years ago, has expended its services from one small walk-in clinic in the basement of Ken-Gar Baptist Church in Kensington to three other Montgomery County communities since 1970.
The clinics attended to 2,500 elderly and medically indigent individuals between 1972 and 1976, 90 per cent of whom returned for follow-up care. The non-profit medical group, manned by eight doctors, 10 nurses and 10 clinicians and technicians, all on a rotating basis, helped spearhead establishment of the Rockville Free Clinic, psychological counseling for the medically poor and plans to start infant care and parent education programs in the Lincoln Park area.
Despite all this, there are no indications of self-satisfaction from Meyersburg. Instead, he assess his work with an air of irritation.
"We're just nibbling at the problem," says the 63-year-old psychoanalyst, a native New Yorker. "We've got about 40,000 people in Montgomery County who don't get regular medical care. We're taking care of 1 per cent of the problem."
For a man who juggles a 40-hour week of private practice in psychoanalysis with about 10 hours a week volunteering in Mobile Med, of which he is president, Meyersburg appears anything but harried. Like a 60s-style activist with his thick crop of grey hair and matching bush of a beard, he talks about the invisibility of Montgomery County's poor while he drapes his six-foot-plus frame across the arms of an easy chair.
"We've been requested to go into other communities, but we can't, not without the backup of physicians we can count on," Meyersburg explains. "The nurses have been the backbone of this operation thus far."
Mobile Med, after incorporating in 1968, operated for two years in the red, subsisting on contributions from the founders, and other Montgomery County residents and firms. Now it operates on a budget of about $27,500 from the county, United Way, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and private donations.
The funds support the Ken-Gar clinic, one at the Montgomery County Housing Authourity for the Elderly at Holly Hall, another at a county housing authority branch in Sliver Spring and a new one at the Lincoln park Community Center.
"When we started out, when we were operating solely on a shoestring, I had envisioned something that would take care of most of the medical problem in this county," Meyersburg said. "That hasn't happened. I can't sya we've encountered active resistance, but we certainly could do with more support.
Despite his dissatisfaction that Mobile Med has not gone farther than it has in some 10 years, Meyersburg believes the program has made a contribution to the county.
"If nothing else, it's made more visible the poverty that exists in Montgomery County - one that's regarded as the richest in the nation. That attitude has spawned a lot of prejudice toward the allocation of funds for the county. Real needs exist here, and maybe our work has made those areas of need go a little less unnoticed."
Sadie Crawford and Sophie Silfen
Sadie and Sophie. Their names go together as well as they get along. They have to get along. Their volunteer work is among the most scrutinizing, painstaking and time consuming of all tasks - work geared to produce short tempers or just plain fatigue.
The pair of retired women, inseparable since taking on their lastest two-year project, translate the printed word into raised words for the blind. They are Braille transcribers, and the time they put into the job between them numbers about 60 hours a week. Their current project is transcribing from print into Braille a 16-lesson instruction manual for teaching mathematics to the blind, to be published by the Library of Congress, Division for the Blind and Phsyically Handicapped.
The job started in 1975 with the actual transcribing of algebraic formulas to their raised correspondents in Braille. Now the project is in the final stages, as they proofread, letter by letter, number by number, the characters that took them a year to transcribe working Monday and Friday mornings at the Library of Congress annex at 1291 Taylor Street NW.
"Thank fortune we don't have to work these problems to get this thing done," says Mrs. George Crawford of Chevy Chase, better known as Sadie to Library of Congress colleagues. Spry and sassy at 71, she doesn't get tiredporing over the lengthy Braille manuscripts. She seems to collect energy.
Both Sadie and Sophie Silfen, 63, who likes 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 rescruiting volunteers to do Braille transcription. The daughter of a West Virginia pharmacist and a "loving wife and mother" as she puts it, Sadie stumbled on to Braille at a Washington coctail party back in the 1930s. It was shortly after she moved here from Wwst Virginia with her husband, who was a vice chairman of the board of contract appeals for the Defense Department.
In 1958, she and another Braille transcriber started Volunteer Braille Services with nine volunteers. It now operates with 58 volunteers working out of the Washington Hebrew Congregation at [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] St. NW. They transcribe everything from [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] trigonometry books for blind readers and professionals.
Sophie met Sadie when she took Braille transcription training from Volunteer Braille Services in 1967. Unlike Sadie, Sophie seems hardly a likely candidate for volunteering. Most of her life was spent working to make ends meet herself.
Sophie, who still carries her accent from New York's Lower East Side, where her Austrian parents immigrated in the teens of 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 all over the world, Japan, Germany and France among them, 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 waht she would do when she got out. She said she was going to take up Braille," Sophie remembered. "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 worling 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.
Roberta Gantz says it's pretty wierd to get rewarded for what you like to do.
That's the view on volunteerism from one of the youngest volunteers around. Roberta, 17, a senior at Bowie High School, is president, overseer and inspiration to the Bowie Hotline (262-AIBE) which handles hundreds of anonymous calls a week from persons ranging from teenagers curious as to where they can get "straight" information on sex to middle-aged alcoholics looking for help.
"We're not here to tell people what to do," she says. "We try to offer alternatives, show them where they can get help. It's they who make the decision to change their lives or not."
The Hotline changed hers. Roberta discovered it by calling once or twice when she herself "felt like the classic troubled teenager."
"I had some problems of my own. I was dissatisfied with myself," she said. "I was shy, a wallflower. I didn't want to bother my parents with things like that. They thought I was outgoing and cheerful, so I didn't want to disappoint them."
Roberta works about 10 hours a week as a volunteer, manning and supervising the hotline operation and counseling juvenile offenders for a Prince George's county organization. In between waiting for calls, she sometimes has an opportunity to crack her textbooks.
It's been two years now since Roberta first joined the hotline to answer calls and she no longer feels like a troubled, confused teenager. Instead, she feels like a directed young woman on the road to a career in either juvenile law, counseling, psychology, special education, physical therapy or speech therapy.
She plans to make her future working with people, as she has made her past.
Gantz, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Gantz of Bowie, may be leaving the hotline in September to attend Prince George's Community College.