Two years ago, after a long convalescence from auto injuries, Agnes McConnell, 77, picked up her cane and decided to take an evening stroll.
Familiar faces, she thought, would speed her recovery, and it would feel good again to meander through her neighborhood lanes.
After checking on all her haunts and nodding to her neighbors, McConnell took a turn down one of the busier avenues. There, she caught sight of a sign reading RSVP which, she insists, eventually led her to feel like sweet 16 all over again.
Prompted by the sign, McDonnell joined the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and now works three days a week as a file clerk in one of the county offices.
McConnell is not alone. Nearly 900 other Montgomery County senior citizens participate in the volunteer program. They work in schools, libraries, government offices and other nonprofit agencies.
Last Sunday, 400 volunteers -- including more than 150 nursing home residents -- gathered in the Montgomery College cafeteria for the eighth annual volunteer Recognition Day. Toasted by glasses of orange juice punch spiked with Fresca and butter cookies iced with jam, the seniors eased back in their chairs to enjoy an afternoon laced with nostalgia and thanks from civic officials.
Fans fashioned out of yellow programs were dropped momentarily to applaud Montgomery County Exective Charles Gilchrist who, in turn, applauded the seniors' contribution to the smooth running of Montgomery County. Gilchrist's statistics included nearly 150,000 hours of work completed by the seniors at 135 different locations last year.
Leslie Einhorn, who directs the program, lauded the seniors. Eight years ago, Einhorn explained, the volunteer office could barely persuade schools to "hire" the senior volunteers. Today, Einhorn boasted, public and private nonprofit organizations are queuing up for the volunteers.
The degree of skill involved in the job varies with the individual, Einhorn said. Many of the 300 nursing home residents perform tasks in their rooms. Others like 74-year-old Hugh Irey -- a tanned man nattily garbed in peach searsucker -- actively organize other community programs.
Irey, a former federal agent with the Treasury Department and the Los Angeles Police Commission, aids the Montgomery police department with their crime prevention program. Irey visits various civic associations, giving advice on how to deter burglars.
Although Gilchrist andEinhorn were warmly received, relief was felt in air as they wound up their speeches. The real entertainment could begin.
Feet shod in the omnipresent cream pumps got ready for the promised medley of Broadway tunes to be delivered by the Fun and Fancy Theatre Group of Rossmoor. A constant tapping of feet underscored versions of "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "As Long as He Needs Me."
Hugs circled the room as seniors promised to see each other soon before walking out into the warm sping afternoon.
"We're like ants on an ant hill," smiled McConnell. "We've got to help each other if we're going to survive."