What do you get when you combine one social worker, nine St. Elizabeths Hospital outpatients and one eager chaplain?The answer: The City Trotters.
"The First Congregational City Trotters is a group of more advanced out-patients who are more independent of the hospital," said the Rev. David Carl, a Methodist chaplain at the hospital. "We teach them the skills they need to live in the community."
Carl, along with Patricia Martin, a St. Elizabeths social worker, organized the Trotters a year ago as an experiment. Group members range in age from 27 to their mid-50s and usually live in foster nomes with other out-patients and foster parents.
"They showed us how to make stew and pancakes," said Ariene, 55, who, like the other group members, wouldn't give her last name "bacause I want to work again and maybe nobody will hire me if they know about this."
Robert learned how to use the Metro and the public library since he's been a Trotter. At 40, he is enormously energetic and loves to talk. Robert likes music and brought hisnew blue portable radio to the last meeting, providing classical background music.
"They go all over the place," said Carl. "That's why they chose the name Trotters."
Group members are proud of jobs they've had and talk about how they want to work again. "I worked in the shoe shop, in the laundry and other jobs at the hospital," said Leonard, 46, dressed in a stylish black and maroon suit. "I had more money at St. Elizabeths than 1 had all my life. As soon as I get my referral from the hospital shop, I'm going to get another job there."
"I was an airline stewardess for 14 years," Arlene said. "I quit in 1959 to teach English in Venezuela, where my parents are from, and then I went to St. Elizabeths for seven years."
Arlene, who lives in a foster home with several otehr women outaptients, complained to the group that "my roommate hit me real hard the other noght and gave me a black eye." "She thought I was looking in her closet," Arlene said, removing her glasses to show her injury. "She's back in the hospital now."
"I have a job now," said Fred, 27, a large man wearing a white cable knit sweater, "I work part-time in St. Elizabeths laundry. They call it industrial therapy."
Fred and Alton, 37, volunteered to heat Chili bean soup and served it to the group in disposable cups. They talked of other inexpensive meals they have learned to proepare since they've joined the Trotters.
"Sometimes my foster parents let me make breakfast," said Leonard, who lives with two other outpatients. "I usually make bologna sandwiches and cornflakes."
Volunteers from the First Congregational Church take turns leading the Trotters in activities. One of the volunteers is a group therapist who comes once a month to teach the group how to exercise.
"If you do these exercises when you go home, too." said Martin, in between sit-ups, "you'll be in good shape this summer and we can play badminton and other outdoor games."
Robert told a reporter about the "nicest" thing that had happened to him since he's been a Trotter. "On my birthday last year, Chaplain Carl brought a birthday cake and we all had some. That meant a lot to me, so I always remind him when someone's birthday is coming up."
"I think the group has been successful," said Martin, "I've noticed that they're much more outgoing, much more spontaneous and they're developing a real sense of trust and caring."
"Learning to trust and care again isn't easy, not when you've been burnt in another relationship," Carl said. "That might seem like a small thing to others, but it's like the Grand Canyon to these people."
Carl says he came to St. Elizabeths "in 1974 right after the seminary to get a year's experience in clinical therapy before I took my parish." The Trotters watched Carl closely and listened eagerly as he continued: "But I fell in love with it -- and I stayed."