Donald and Helen Tomlinson got their first taste of apartment life recently when they moved to a two-bedroom unit managed by the Greater Waldorf Jaycees Chapter.

Their new apartment is much smaller than the house they had rented at Rock Point, about 24 miles south of Waldorf.

But for Donald, 66, who had a stroke last November, the move meant that he could forget about paying water and trash-collection bills and mowing lawns. h

"It was really getting hard to keep up the house," said 59-year-old Helen Tomlinson. "It really is more convenient for us now that we've moved here."

The program to provide apartments to 44 elderly residents in Charles County was born three years ago as the brainstorm of Frank Hollewa, Jaycees project chairman. The chapter endorsed the plan after polling elderly residents on the proposed project.

To get money, the Jaycees solicited help from Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) for a low-interest, 50-year, $1.17 million loan from the Farmer's Home Administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The group raised an additional $23,400 by sponsoring carnivals and casino and bingo nights.

The Jaycees used the money to construct four buildings with 36 one- or two-bedroom units on Ell Lane. The buildings officially opened July 27.

"Some people just don't make enough money to live in suitable housing when they get old," Hollewa said. "If all (the income) they have is Social Security, it's difficult to get good housing."

Tenants pay 25 percent of their monthly income in rent. Monthly payments to the corporation the Jaycees set up to manage the buildings range up to $156, Hollewa said.

The chapter maintains the buildings and pays the trash-collection and water bills of each tenant. Charles County soon will provide shuttle-bus service to downtown Waldorf twice weekly.

Bud Humbert, president of the Waldorf Jaycees, a group of about 30 active members in a town of about 38,000 residents, said space and money prevented the group from building more than 36 units at the site.

"I wish we could build more units, but the money we got from the Farmer's Home Administration was the most they could grant for our project," Humbert said.

Unlike some apartment managers, the Jaycees allow tenants to keep their pets. The Tomlinsons say they are grateful for that because they own a poodle and two cats.

Most units include smoke detectors, handrails and "panic cords" that can alert a tenant if another tenant has had an accident or needs help.

"We couldn't have done (the elderly housing) without community support," Hollewa said, adding. "Everybody was in on the project."

Joining the effort, according to Hollewa, were State Sen. James C. Simpson (D-Charles County), Farmer's Home Administration official Thomas M. Potter, and Charles County commissioners.

About 150 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony recently. The band, "Gospel Survivors," played patriotic tunes and speeches were made by Humbert, Sen. Sarbanes and U.S. Jaycees President Gib Garrow.

Tenants and spectators attending the ceremony praised the Waldorf chapter and its efforts.

"I was really lucky to get an apartment," said 64-year-old Mary Regina Pickeral, a part-time custodian.

"I don't think this deal can be beat," she said. "And I'm so glad I got in on the ground floor one and one half years ago. I think my one-bedroom apartment is room enough for me."

For the last two years the Waldorf chapter has won the "Harold Marx Award" as the most successful chapter in the nation. Recently it was given the "Minneapolis Award" as the top Jaycee chapter in the world.

In addition to its apartments for the elderly, the Waldorf chapter helps finance a drug-abuse counseling center and a nursing home in Charles County.

The chapter also provides food, hearing aids and fuel for needy people and gives clothing, shoes and toys to children whose families receive welfare payments.