trail volunteer

Ziobro and his regular hiking companion, Toes, enjoy a hike on trail near his Columbia home. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / February 6, 2012)

As 69-year-old David Ziobro put it on a recent morning at his home off Hayshed Lane in Long Reach, "trees have a nasty habit of falling down."

Like humans, they face strong headwinds in their lives and grow old. At times, the roots they've grown in their local environments weaken.

When they come down on the three-mile stretch of the Tuscarora Trail in Pennsylvania that Ziobro oversees as a volunteer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, it is Ziobro who clears them away, spending hours sawing and lifting on a lonesome trail two hours from his home.

Ziobro also clears obstacles from the paths of many local residents in Howard County, through his volunteerism with Christ Episcopal Church's HANDS program, which offers rides to county residents who can't otherwise make it to their medical appointments.

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On top of that, Ziobro sits on the board of directors for Ardmore Enterprises, a non-profit organization based in Mitchellville that seeks to empower and clear away obstacles for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, under the motto, "Deep roots, strong branches, real growth."

In more ways than one, Ziobro has become a volunteer extraordinaire since his retirement in 2004, friends and family say.

Rather than let his own roots in the community weaken as he gets older, Ziobro has instead charged full speed ahead, making connections by helping others make their way, whether out on the trail or in their everyday lives.

"From my perspective, he doesn't have to do these things," said Tim Ambrose, a friend of Ziobro's. "He chooses to give back in this extraordinary way."

"He's very committed," said Maggie Caldwell, Christ Episcopal Church's parish administrator who helps organize the HANDS program, to which Ziobro has dedicated hundreds of hours.

In fact, Ziobro is so committed, Caldwell said, that people who are put in touch with him after signing up for the program often stop calling the church for pick-ups, preferring instead to deal directly with Ziobro.

"He develops relationships," Caldwell said. "He drops the barriers, and just helps as he's able."

Finding the inspiration

Ziobro, at first, didn't seem to like the idea of an article being written about him, and demurred at the request.

But getting the word out about some of the organizations he works with didn't seem a bad idea, he said, reasoning others might be inspired to volunteer.

"There are all kinds of things that happen in our daily lives that we can help on," he said. "If you take the time, you can benefit someone else's life."

All you need to do is find your passion, he said — though it definitely takes finding a balance, too.

When Ziobro married his wife, Suzanne, in 1981, they had six children between them from previous marriages. They set up a new home for the whole gang in Columbia, which was often jammed with friends from the neighborhood, too.

Ziobro was a manager and then an executive with Computer Sciences Corp., from which he retired in 2004 as the company's vice president of NASA programs.

He now has 14 grandchildren and one great grandchild, with a second on the way. Life remains busy, family life remains a priority.

It always has been.