A group of young professionals, who have jobs in federal agencies, private industry and on Capitol Hill, found something was missing from their lives.
Members of the group, who are single and in their 20s and early 30s, needed "contact with humanity," as one of them put it.
The solution has been to spend four hours a week volunteering at Georgetown University Hospital. Their group, called "Career Volunteers," recently celebrated its third anniversary.
The volunteers said they chose Georgetown because it was one of the few hospitals in the area with an evening volunteer program and because, as one explained, "after all, it has a great reputation."
Kathy Ebert, 33, works for the American Bar Association training foreign lawyers to work in the United States and American lawyers to work abroad.
"I have a very cerebral, esoteric job that is very unreal at times. I needed to see a little more ordinary, humanistic side of life . . . Shifting gears this way is very healthy for me," she said.
Ebert, who works in the hospital emergency room, said that she spent one evening helping a cantankerous old woman who complained constantly as Ebert wheeled her first to the ladies room and eventually to a cab.
After Ebert had lifted the woman into the cab, the driver decided he did not want to lift the woman out when she arrived at her destination, so he told Ebert to take her out of the cab.
As Ebert and the woman waited for another cab, the woman no longer complained. She began fumbling in her purse to give Ebert a dollar.
Ebert said she will never forget the expression of amazement on the old woman's face when she explained she was a volunteer and suggested that the woman spend the money on a gift for herself.
Marty Miller, 33, a furniture salesman in Virginia, volunteers in the children's section of the hospital. A photography buff, he tries to make life a little less boring for the children by showing slides from a trip he took along the California coastline. Children who have already seen the slides are allowed to turn the lights on and off and run the projector.
Miller said his time in the pediatric ward has not always been fun. One evening when he came to work he found a 6-year-old boy who had been struck by a truck and was attached to life-support machines.
"Doctors said he would never leave the bed. All I could think of was that he should be out playing ball or something. But there he was, attached to those noisy machines in a 12-by-12 room. I found myself by his bed. I stroked his head and began crying."
Miller, who hobbled around the children's ward recently with a cast on his foot -- he injured his leg on a pothole while jogging -- said the volunteer work provides hime with an important change from his daily routine.
Gina Mondres, a 22-year-old employe of the American Security Council, a lobbying group, said she had misgivings when she was assigned to the cancer ward of the hospital.
"I was concerned at first, but my family has a history of cancer and I decided it would be good to learn more about it," she said.
Mondres, who was the "Diamond Doll" baton twirler when she was a student at Virginia Tech, said she recently found herself counseling a terminally ill woman. "She was saying she had nothing to live for. So I just told her she had a wonderful husband who needed her to live and that she should hold on for him."
Donna Chiffriller, 22, a legal secretary, said she decided to do volunteer work at the hospital because of an incident earlier in her life. She said that when she was 8 years old and away from her parents, she became very sick and a volunteer helped her make it through the ordeal.
Chiffriller said that her friends say she is "crazy" for doing volunteer work after spending a full day at her job.
"It's been great -- all I've been doing is talking to people and that is what I do best. When I leave here I feel great," she said.
Henriette Stegemeier, the 26-year-old head of constituent services for Sen. Howard Baker (D-Tenn.), said many of the volunteers, including herself, had worked in a hospital before as teenage volunteers, often called "candy stripers" because of the pink-striped uniforms they wear.
Roger Morris, a lawyer with the Securities Exchange Commission, said the volunteer program "struck me as interestihg. I wanted to know how anybody could spend an evening walking around and helping people out. It was an opportunity for me to see a whole different area and meet patients."
Morris, 26, who has been working at Georgetown since last fall, said he first thought he'd be a "fifth wheel" at the hospital. Instead, he found that he enjoys the volunteer work and believes he has been useful.
The volunteers, who are trained as nursing assistants before they begin working, created "Career Volunteers" about three years ago. Lucretia Beach, director of volunteer services at the hospital and coordinator of the program, said the volunteers began a newsletter and then a fundraising effort through the sale of a gormet cookbook. They have also participated in bake sales, flower and plant sales, gourmet dinners, and yachting parties down the Potomac. Proceeds are used for hospital projects.
During a typical evening, volunteers spend their time transferring patients to rooms and labs for tests, talking with patients and assisting nurses. They work in the emergency room delivering blood to the laboratory for tests; work in admissions and the hospital gift shop, and run gift and library carts during evening hours.
"They do invaluable work. They don't do the nurses' job, but they really help out," said Beach, who hopes that the Georgetown Career Volunteers organization will become a model for other hospitals.
The hospital administrators apparently agree with her. New offices for the volunteers have been included in the hospital modernization program, Beach said. They will open Sept. 10.