Finding The Right Connection

The Senior Connection of Montgomery County seeks volunteers in Germantown.

If getting downstairs to answer the front door were difficult for Diane and Joseph Liebling, their option for grocery shopping — a nine-minute walk to Giant — wasn't much more appealing.

But that was before the Lieblings got connected.

Now Sanjoo Jalla, a volunteer with the Senior Connection of Montgomery County, makes the grocery run for the Lieblings.

“She’s a blessing,” said Diane Liebling, 81 of Germantown. “What more can I say?”

The Senior Connection is a nonprofit that serves county residents who are 62 and older. The Silver Spring-based organization provides rides to appointments, help with errands and shopping — what Jalla does for the Lieblings — and assistance with reading and writing paperwork.

“Anybody can provide transportation," said Executive Director Susan M. Dollins. "What we do is provide a friend.”


Not enough volunteers to meet demand

According to the Montgomery County Commission on Aging, the number of county residents age 65 older is projected to reach 190,000 by 2030.

The county —which provides nearly half of the organization’s $230,000 budget — renewed its contract with The Senior Connection to provide shopping and other services, Dollins said.

But organization lacks the volunteers to keep up with the demand, Dollins said.  Last year, The Senior Connection served 930 people and had 200 volunteers — most of them downcounty, Dollins said.

Senior Connection recently expanded its services to Germantown and Gaithersburg. But in Germantown, there are three active volunteers and one prospective volunteer, Dollins said.

“I can do anything, as long as I have a volunteer willing to do it,” Dollins said.


Making the connection

One of those volunteers is Joyce Mason, a 55-year-old substitute teacher from Germantown. Mason said she got to know an older couple while driving them to doctor’s visits for The Senior Connection.

The wife’s health took a turn for the worse, Mason recalled.

“I’d hold her hand and we’d sing a little bit, church hymns,” Mason said.

Unfortunately, the husband and wife have since passed away.

“It was sad,” Mason said. “I didn’t know I was making that much of an impact until their daughter told me how much it helped them.”


‘I see my parents in them’

The Lieblings were referred to Senior Connection, Diane Liebling said, after she was hospitalized last year for respiratory issues.

She said prior to Senior Connection, the couple relied on neighbors and friends to get their groceries.  The couple has mobility problems and do not drive, though sometimes Joseph Liebling, 91, has walked to the bank and store.

“I’m afraid for him to go anymore,” Diane Liebling said.

As a couple, the Lieblings spent most of their time in Arlington, Va., where they raised their only child, Bobby Liebling  — frontman for heavy metal band Pentagram. Diane Liebling, a nightclub singer, and Joseph Liebling, who worked for the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense under Richard Nixon, settled in Germantown in the 1970s.

“I’m still settling in,” Diane Liebling said from the living room of their townhome. She said she “set up shop” on the main floor because it’s hard for her to get up and own the stairs.

For the past few weekends, Jalla has been the one making the grocery run. She arrived at the Lieblings’ townhome on a cold, rainy Saturday. In the kitchen, Diane Liebling handed over the grocery list to Jalla.

“I love this couple,” said Jalla, a scientist from Germantown. “I see my parents in them.”

Jalla said her parents lived in India. She’s not able to handle everyday tasks for them, like getting groceries and running routine errands.  She says she volunteers out of an obligation to serve others.

“It is a way to thank God for what you have,” Jalla said.

Margaret McMillan October 04, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Excellent article, Ms. Arnold! You've done a great job of conveying the importance of Senior Connection's work. (I'm an SC volunteer myself.)
Tiffany Arnold October 04, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Glad you liked the story Margaret!


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