During the week, they are lawyers, model builders, politicians, pianists, singers, students and welfare recipients, but on yesterday's first Montgomery County Community Service Day, they were all just "volunteers" -- an estimated 5,000 of them.
On a sun-soaked fall day that would have been perfect for relaxing at home, the volunteers instead showed up at nearly 200 projects around the county that included pulling weeds and clearing brush at a historic cemetery, entertaining the elderly in a nursing home and planting trees at a former landfill.
"You can't put a number on the amount of people who benefited by this," said Mary Egan, who orchestrated the event with less than three months of planning. The day, conceived last spring by County Council member Bruce Adams, who helped form a partnership with the county government and the business community, was designed to "promote community spirit in Montgomery County and enhance volunteerism," according to Egan, who hopes to see it grow into an annual event.
It was not only a day of giving, but also one of feeling needed.
"I feel appreciated," said Don Bowman, 33, a builder for Knoll Architectural Models, who was doing repair work at Rockville's Stepping Stones Shelter, a home for families that have fallen on hard times. "It's something that I enjoy doing. I meet new people who are complete strangers when they come here, and when they leave they are like family," said Bowman, who has volunteered at the shelter for two years and is now on the paid part-time staff.
"I'm doing this to be of service, to lend a helping hand," said Susanne Martin of Germantown, one of about 30 volunteers who are also enrolled in the county's Family Independence Project, a welfare program. Martin showed up with her children, Lakria, 6, and 10-month-old Paige, at the Holiday Park Senior Center in Wheaton to plant chrysanthemums and work on bulletin board displays for the center's 6,000 members.
"We are out because we want to help," said Catherine Keys, who credited the Family Independence Project with making it possible for her to graduate from computer school. Keys said her 12-year-old daughter Heather was inside working on the bulletin boards because "this is a family project."
For others, volunteerism is a way of keeping a perspective on life. "I know I'm lucky," said Diara Holmes, a 17-year-old Walt Whitman High School senior, as she stood in a large, empty room at Stepping Stones, clutching a bottle of Lysol cleaner.
"If you live in your little Bethesda block, you can begin to think the rest of the world is just like that. It's not. I know that from working at Martha's Table at 14th and W streets and at Shepherd's Table in Silver Spring."
Holmes and about 20 of her classmates had just finished cleaning the old-fashioned parlor in the partly renovated 26-room Victorian farmhouse in Rockville. Last year Holmes helped start the school's community service club, which has raised more than $4,000 for causes.
"We want this to be an ongoing project. It's a good way to get Walt Whitman students united. I hope we can do housecleaning, tutoring, and baby-sitting," Holmes said.
Upstairs at the shelter, nearly a dozen members of the Montgomery County Commission for Women dipped brushes and rollers in light blue paint and spread it across the aging plaster walls, being careful not to spill anything on the 75-year-old wooden floors. The advisory group recently collected more than $600 from three Rockville law firms and spent it to help furnish the shelter, which has been closed for repairs since early this month.
Over at the two-room Montrose School, Montgomery County police officers and students from Holy Cross Academy combined efforts to cut down dead trees, clip poison ivy and rake leaves, while several thousand soccer players from Montgomery Soccer Inc. and their parents collected newspapers and delivered them to recycling centers, despite a busy schedule of Saturday matches.
At Lamberton House, a group home for retarded residents in Kemp Mill, which County Executive Sidney Kramer helped begin in the early 1970s, Kramer performed a little yard work. At the same time, his wife and chairwoman of the volunteer partnership, soprano Betty Mae Kramer, and her accompanist, pianist Ziona Tuchler, performed for residents of Mary House, a senior citizens home affiliated with St. Mary's Church in Rockville.