The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 15, 2001
October 15, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 7


Donating Time: The Rewards of Finding the Right Fit

Health care, adult literacy prove good matches for two would-be volunteers

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Loretta Hoepfner is admittedly not a morning person. Given her freedom, Hoepfner says, she will without hesitation sleep until noon on weekends. However, on a recent Saturday, Hoepfner eagerly arose from her "warm bed" in Catonsville at 4 a.m., leaving herself just enough time to get dressed, have a quick bite to eat and hop in her car.

Her destination was the town of Westminster in Carroll County, the starting point for the 2001 Maryland Wine Festival Bike Tour to benefit the American Lung Association of Maryland. Hoepfner's early morning duties included marking the bike routes, assisting with registration, setting up food tables and filling up 50-gallon drums of water for the riders. Sleepy eyes aside, Hoepfner, who chaired the event, says she did it all with a smile.

"I'm glad to do it," says Hoepfner, an administrative assistant in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine. "Sure, I wish I didn't have to get up so early, but I'm excited about helping to put on an event like this that in turn helps someone in their ability to get health care. The ALA does a lot of things in Maryland, from childhood asthma programs in schools to its Freedom From Smoking program."

Volunteer Loretta Hoepfner, right, with an American Lung Association staff member

The American Lung Association of Maryland is just one United Way-affiliated agency that each year receives assistance from Johns Hopkins staff and faculty members. For those people seeking to volunteer, sometimes it is all about finding the right fit.

Hoepfner has a long history of volunteerism. Before moving to Baltimore in 1991, Hoepfner lived on New York's Long Island, where she volunteered for the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the local fire department.

In Baltimore, Hoepfner retained her connection to the American Red Cross and again became a volunteer fire fighter. However, it wasn't until 1995 when Hoepfner, now with more time on her hands, decided she wanted to commit herself to one organization. To help decide which one, Hoepfner that year volunteered at 10 area health care- related fund-raisers.

"I was looking to see who needed help, and it also provided me a way to interview these agencies informally and see if they would fit in with my personal mission statement," says Hoepfner, referring to her commitment to making a difference for the better in the lives of others. "That is what volunteering allows me to do. Especially with what is going on in the world these days, I feel if everyone does something positive in their own little world, it will have a sort of ripple-in-the-pool effect."

Hoepfner describes the relationship she found with the American Lung Association of Maryland as the perfect partnership. She primarily donates her time to planning and marketing the organization's various annual fund-raising races and events, including the Maryland Wine Festival Bike Tour and Chesapeake Bay Asthma Ride Bike Tour. In 2000, Hoepfner volunteered for the Big Ride Across America, a six-and-a-half-week trek from Seattle to Washington, D.C.

"I help do everything from setting up bike routes to stuffing marketing packets to choosing what the new logo on the T-shirt will be," she says. "Whatever I can do, I know it really helps."

In late 1997, Sharon Busching, an administrative assistant in the Physics and Astronomy Department in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, was looking for a cause to devote herself to long term. It turned out she didn't have to look far. Busching says she noticed a flier on campus advertising the Greater Homewood Community Corporation's adult literacy program and immediately knew this could be a match.

"Reading is one of the greatest activities one can indulge in," Busching says. "It's a great source of pleasure and learning."

Sharon Busching, who donates her time to an adult literacy program

Following a two-weekend training course to learn to tutor, Busching was paired up with her "learner," a local middle-aged woman. The two agreed to meet for a couple of hours each week at Greater Homewood's North Charles Street facility. Busching says that on a typical night the two will go over reading assignments, breaking down words by syllables and then discussing spelling and grammar rules.

Four years later, Busching and her learner are still together, meeting at least once a month. Busching says her learner has come a long way.

"When we started, she couldn't read the word 'get,' and she had somehow graduated from high school," Busching says. "But now she is reading five-syllable words, learning to put the stress in the right place and moving on to more sophisticated grammar. For me it has been incredibly gratifying working with someone so eager to learn. Her curiosity and positive attitude are inspiring."

Busching says that while her learner still finds books imposing, she has developed a fondness for stories.

"One day when she came to study, she told me about this story that 'was so good.' It was about a guy who had been attacked by alligators," Busching says. "She had been so engrossed in it that she nearly missed her bus stop. So, we are finally reaching a level of reading skill where she is transported, where she doesn't have to work so hard with each phrase, and that's good."

Her learner's enhanced reading skills, Busching says, have provided a newfound confidence that has translated into job advancement and pay raises.

Understandably, the two have grown close. Both are deeply committed to their respective churches and share many common beliefs. Still, Busching points out, they are very different people. Busching is single with no children, while her learner is a parent who together with her daughter supports two children and two grandchildren through modest means.

"I realize I'm getting to know a person I likely would never have met before making this volunteer connection," Busching says. "I am so impressed by her energy level and commitment to bettering herself. She is also very concerned about her children and their own education. The fact that she somehow manages to balance all the things in her life just amazes me."

Busching says that in helping just this one person to read, she has found a small way to better the life of a few people in the immediate community.

"This has been such a positive experience for me. It's comfortable and it fits into my life," she says. "One thing that I think is important about choosing a cause to volunteer for is that it fits into your life routine. I never could have predicted how much I would get out of this."

The American Lung Association of Maryland and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation are just two of the hundreds of local agencies supported by the United Way of Central Maryland. To learn more about volunteer opportunities available to members of the Hopkins community, contact Judy Peregoff at 410-516-6060. To pledge financial support to United Way efforts, fill out the form you'll be receiving from the university.