Employees of Bon Secours Health Systems Inc. in Marriottsville traded in their desk jobs, tailored business suits, leather pumps and briefcases for paintbrushes, ladders and hedge trimmers Friday.
The 36 volunteers from the national health care company's corporate headquarters spent the day painting, repairing and landscaping four residential homes for mentally retarded adults in Columbia, Glenelg, Elkridge and Ellicott City.
Sister Anne Lutz of Bon Secours said she chose the service project from several submitted by Howard County volunteer groups because it matched the talents of the employees.
"We wanted to work for the [mentally] handicapped adults because we are in health care," Sister Anne said. "We felt we had a responsibility to the community we work in to help with its unmet needs."
Bon Secours operates 12 hospitals and nursing homes around the country.
On a muggy, cloudy day, the volunteers showed up at 8 a.m. at the four homes to paint the interiors and exteriors, trim trees, apply mulch, clean carpets and stain wooden decks.
"Cathy and I have compulsively gotten into the nitty-gritty of cleaning this place," said Joeann Karibo, a Bon Secours planner who worked on her hands and knees to clean the grime behind a stove at a house on Coventry Court Drive in Ellicott City.
Her colleague, Cathy Stam, a computer systems installer, worked diligently at cleaning the stove itself.
The homes are owned by Richcroft Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates 19 homes for 51 mentally retarded men and women in Carroll, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties through a state health department grant.
Richcroft's director, David Coughlin, said his organization did an assessment to determine which of the homes needed the most work and decided on the Ellicott City and Glenelg homes. The other two homes needed only carpet cleaning and landscaping, he said.
"We are very underfunded. Without the volunteers, we wouldn't be able to get this done," he said.
Elliott Archer, one of three residents of the Ellicott City house, watched the volunteers work for most of the morning.
Mr. Archer, 76, sat in his wheelchair smiling while the volunteers stripped white paint off the roof's shingles, trimmed back shrubs, and cleaned the nooks and crannies of the two-story house in preparation for a thorough paint job.
JoAnne Miller, the home's live-in manager, said the repairs were long overdue because the paint around the windowsills and floor boards was badly chipped.
"It will make it a lot easier to live here when we're more comfortable. The guys will love it," she said of the other two residents, William Chevalier, 71, and James Wainwright, 58.
"The house wasn't dilapidated, but it needed a paint job," Ms. Miller said. "It's wonderful what the Bon Secours volunteers are doing."
Mr. Coughlin said a contractor had estimated that the repairs would cost more than $6,000.
"We are spending virtually nothing. The volunteers are even bringing their own food, water and supplies," he said.
John Meehan, a treasury manager for Bon Secours, said the employees believe in helping their immediate community.
"We will get a good feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day," he said.
While Mr. Meehan was trimming back the multitude of shrubs on the acre of land surrounding the Ellicott City house, 10 other volunteers were staining the wooden deck, landscaping and painting the interior of the two-story Glenelg home on Ivory Road.
The three men who live in the home were away at work during the renovation of their home.
Chris Morris, a Bon Secours secretary, said it was fun working with her colleagues on a more casual basis. "I like seeing them sweat. There's no air conditioning on the outside," she said.
Denise Mogavero, an accounting clerk who spent her morning applying water sealant to the deck and sculpturing a rosebush, said she appreciated being outdoors for a change. "We have pretty cushy jobs working behind desks all day," she said.