Mary LaMois is a matchmaker. From her office in Old Town, she interviews clients, young and old, makes them fill out forms with their vital statistics and areas of interest. Then she puts it all into a computer, scans her list and comes up with an ideal match.

"I interview them myself and get a feel for what they're interested in," she said. "Then I give them choices."

LaMois doesn't run a computer dating service. She's director of the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau, a clearinghouse that matches the interests, talents and skills of volunteers with the needs of community groups and agencies.

The bureau, partially funded by the United Way and the City of Alexandria, began in 1980 and is one of eight volunteer referral agencies, some county-run, others private, in the metropolitan area. There is one in each of the area's counties and the District.

"Many people think of shelters, food banks or tutoring when they think of volunteer options," LaMois said. "But there are so many other ways to volunteer."

Possibilities include everything from being a museum guide or researcher to helping clean up the environment or being a buddy to an AIDS patient.

"People come here and, according to their interests and available time, I match them with various volunteer opportunities," LaMois said.

About 235 agencies and groups use volunteers referred from the bureau.

"I tried to volunteer at some of the homeless shelters when I first moved here, but it was hard to set up times with my schedule," said Jim Snyder, 27, a lawyer who moved to Alexandria 2 1/2 years ago. "I wasn't really aware of what other volunteer opportunities were out there, until I went to the bureau."

Now Snyder is a board member of Guest House, a halfway house and alternative correctional facility for women. He also coaches Little League baseball during the summer.

Before going to the bureau, "I didn't even know those things were there," he said.

"The kind of people that we see in here are those who are new in town and missing the connection to the community," LaMois said. "I would say that most of the volunteers that I see are between the ages of 22 and 45, although we have younger and older. But we have very few senior citizens."

Jon Mathis, a volunteer board member for the bureau, said: "In Alexandria, you're not talking about a little old woman stuffing envelopes. Now you have young professionals helping and wanting to make a difference."

LaMois said that since she became the bureau's director in 1988, there has been about a 50 percent increase in volunteers. "When I began, we had about 1,000 volunteers coming through this office. This year we have about 1,500. It's sort of vogue now to be a volunteer."

Janel Hamann, 24, who moved to Alexandria 13 months ago, visited the bureau last January and became a tutor to a third-grader through a program called "Wright to Read," named after the prominent Alexandria family who began it.

"I wanted to get involved in the community and feel like I'm helping other people. I think I can have an impact," Hamann said.

She said she knew of few friends who volunteer as she does.

"I think there are two main reasons why people don't get involved," she said. "One is because they don't know where to look for the opportunities, and two, they don't think they have the time. The bureau is really key because it gives you so many options."

Peter Juge, 58, who with his wife moved to Alexandria about a year ago, turned to the bureau when he wanted to get involved in the community after retirement.

"I was looking to do things that were different, like working at a museum, something with historical significance," he said. "So I went into the bureau and {LaMois} picked up what I was interested in and matched me up. Now I volunteer at the Ramsey House visitor center on Wednesday mornings, I do research at Gadsby's Tavern and I volunteer at Christ Church.

"It's a very clever idea to have one central place that matches people with needs," Juge said.

LaMois couldn't agree more. "There's some task that everyone can do and it's the challenge of this place to match them up."