They are the lamplighters, the people who find the time to make life a little more bearable, a little more enjoyable, a little brighter for the lonely and forgotten aged.
They know, or they can imagine, how it is to be cooped up in a nursing home with only an occasional visitor, to try to deal with bureaucracy for the desperately needed Social Security check, to dread not knowing where the next meal will come from, or when they will be evicted from their homes in the name of progress.
They know because they, too, are elderly. And, chances are, if they did not personally experience the insecurities that accompany growing old in America, they know someone who did.
As nearly 500 of their friends and relatives looked on last week, 25 senior citizens and 10 organizations that serve the elderly were honored by Mayor Marion Barry and other District officials for their dedication to helping those who could not always help themselves.
They were presented with certificates of appreciation at a special ceremony in the Departmental Auditorium, where D. Richard Artis, executive director of the city's Office on Aging, briefed them on the 1981 White House Conference on Aging.
Each of their stories was as unique as their services were varied.
There were, for example, 78-year-old Ching Chong Hung of the Chung Pak Senior Citizens Club and 65-year-old Alice O. Ford, a recent retiree who volunteers one day a week to the Legal Counsel for the Elderly Volunteers.
Born in Canton, China, Hung has lived in this area 45 years and is widely respected in the Chinese community for his dedication to both young and old.
When Hung first moved here, he converted part of his L Street home into a church and social services center. There, Chinese immigrants could be coached on the customs, laws and language of their new homeland.
As the congregation grew, Hung, and ordained minister, realized the small house would no longer do. So, in 1938 he set off on a fund-raising trip that took him throughout the country and to Honolulu.
By the time he returned, Hung had raised $175,000 of the $200,000 it eventually cost to build the Chinese community Church, a nondenominational Protestant church at 1101 L St. NW. It was dedicated in 1957.
Today, the church's congregation numbers a little over 300 persons who continue to look to it for the same spiritual and practical guidance that another generation found in Hung's home.
"We have a Chinese language school and a senior citizens club," Hung said. "We help immigrants from Hong Kong, Formosa, Thailand and the boat people with housing, employment, education and medical care."
Alice Ford taught dental hygiene at Howard University's College of Dentistry until last year when she retired. Part of her spare time now is used advising the elderly on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps and the preparation of wills.
"I like to help people with their problems," said Food, who was given paralegal training at the center. "A lot of elderly people are eligible for benefits, but they don't know about it. I remember one cold February day when I found out that a woman was eligible for veterans' checks, but she didn't know it. It made me feel good to find a way she could add to her income."
There were other stories, too, about senior citizens working for better medical care, transportation and housing for their fellow senior citizens.
Those cited for their exemplary performance are: Individuals Alice M. Allen, James Tenant Association; Martha B. Carroll, the Harvest House; Eleanor D. Carter, Shiloh Senior Citizens Club; LuAlgie Craig, Watha T. Daniel Senior Citizens; Carlene Davis, Friendly Guild Senior Citizens; Edward Eubanks, Change Gold Card No. 3; Kathryn Fisher, St. Thomas Apostle-All Souls Luncheon Club; Alice O. Ford, Legal Counsel for the Elderly Volunteers; Ella O. Gray, The Stay Young Senior Citizens Club; Sylvester Green, Phillip T. Johnson Seniors; Pauline Headen, Judiciary House Resident Council; Ruth Haugen, D.C. League of Women Voters; Rev. Dr. Ching Chong Hung, Chung Pak Senior Citizens; Alberta L. Hunter, First Baptist Church Senior Citizens Hot Lunch Program; Louise Jackson, Fort Stanton Harvesters; Clifford Johnson, St. George Senior Club No. 1078; Thomas V. Leach, North Michigan Park Civic Association; Mollie Livingston, Extended Services for the Blind and Handicapped Citizens; Bessie Smith. Senior Citizens Club No. 5; Lizzie Smith, Never Too Old and Nutrition Club; Nellie O. Smith, St. Martin's Forever Young Club; Helen J. Taylor, Hobby Lobby Club; Nannie Toliver, 4Cs East-West Senior Citizen Club; Emma L. Weedon, Columbia Senior Center Nutrition Program; Louise Willoughby, St. Thomas Apostle Sodality. Groups Chinese Cultural Center, D.C. Green Thumb Organization; Columbia Senior Center Chorus; Greater Washington Area Council of Senior Citizens, Hearts and Flowers Senior Citizens No. 2108, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Young at Hearts/River Terrace; Mother Dear's Community Center; Mount Moriah Community Seniors; NNE/CIC Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Citizens; Near Northeast Meals on Wheels, Near Northeast Group Ministry; Senior Citizens Program of Michaux Center; Regency House Floor Captains, Executive Board of the Regency House Resident Council; Senior Citizens Task Force/UPO.