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Catherine Tate styles hair and gives manicures. Lucille Linsenmeyer calls bingo and writes a house newsletter.

The volunteers do different things on different days at different places. But their goals are the same: to provide companionship and a link to the outside world for senior citizens in the county.

Volunteers to Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly have been serving as friends and helpers to seniors living in private boarding homes since 1988, when the county started the program.

George Wentz, who owns and manages Chestnut Manor -- a Linthicum "board-and-care" home for nine seniors -- said his ALFE volunteer provides numerous activities for the residents that the small staff would not normally have time for.

"We could use a full-time activities coordinator in this place," he said. "But economics wouldn't allow it."

Linsenmeyer, who visits the home two or three times a week, spends her timetalking, playing bingo and doing whatever else the residents -- who range in age from 75 to 92 -- like to do.

"She does a lot for us,"said Hazel Hancock, 85. "I can't see well, you know, so she does lots of little things, like writing for you or straightening up your room.

"For a while she couldn't come because she hurt her leg, and wereally missed her," she added. "She's a lively person. And having people come here means a lot because we don't get out much."

Jean Kraus, 88, said she came to live at Chestnut Manor only three weeks ago, after living with relatives for years.

Although she was scared at first, she said, the friendly staff and homey atmosphere at Chestnut Manor quickly put her at ease.

She also enjoys her visits with Linsenmeyer.

"She's very pleasant -- just a joy to be around," Kraus said. "She'll do anything you ask her to."

Dorothy Parker, the county's long-term care ombudsman for the Department of Aging, said she has nine active volunteers in the ALFE program and another five waiting to be trained. But the program needs at least 20 volunteers so each large board-and-care home can have its own volunteer and smaller homes can share one.

If volunteers realized how much the visits meant to residents and how little time the program takes each week, more might be willing to sign up, Parker said.

"They have to visit once a week, that's the minimum," she said.

The visits generally last one to three hours and can be scheduled at any time. Volunteers whowork can go in the evening or on weekends. Many start by going once a week and end up going two or three times because they enjoy it so much, she said.

Tate, a hairdresser, said she became an ALFE volunteer almost two years ago because she enjoys interacting with senior citizens and thought she had something special to offer.

"I have a special place in my heart for elderly people, and I thought, 'what's two hours of my life on my day off,' " said Tate, who visits Locust Lodge, a home for 11 seniors in Riviera Beach.

"I told them I'd do what I do best," she said, explaining her choice to give haircuts, set hair and polish nails. She said the residents, who don't go out much, appreciate a chance to be pampered.

They also like the conversation.

"A lot of them repeat themselves. You may hear the same story 55 times," she said. "But they really enjoy the company. And I think older people have a lot to give. They are really very wise if you sit down and listen to them."

Tate said the residents took a littlewhile to warm up to her, but now they look forward to her visits, and vice versa.

"There's one lady who waits up in her room, looking out the window, and when she sees me, she comes running downstairs toopen the door," she said. "That really delights me."

"It's so fulfilling. They make me feel so good," said Linsenmeyer. "I just like to go and sit and chat sometimes. Keeping them talking is important, so they don't feel so isolated."

Parker said the primary role of ALFE volunteers is to provide companionship. But they also help the Department of Aging by informally monitoring the quality of care given in many of the county's 40 registered boarding homes.

The homes, which are privately run, provide housing in a comfortable, family like setting for seniors who are too frail to live by themselves but do not require full-time nursing care. Most of the homes, which must be licensed by the state, provide excellent care for their residents, Parker said.

But even the best homes benefit from outside input, she said. The volunteers help the professional staff by reporting things that could be potential problems, she said. The department inspects the homes four times a year.

The ALFE volunteer program, which was developed using a start-up grant from the American Association of Retired Persons, has become a model for other states, Parker said. Similar programs fashioned after Anne Arundel's are now run in 10 states. Parker said the program, which she coordinates, also provides some training for board-and-care home owners and staff. It costs the county about $3,500 a year to run.

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