Doris Johnson places an address label on an envelope, an act she repeats 500 times each day as a volunteer at the Greater Baltimore chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. She also erases book tapes, cooks and sits on the board of directors of the same organization.

Blind for more than a decade, Johnson, 66, believes volunteering is a way to set an example for those who have lost hope because of their blindness.

"Blind people need to understand that it can be done," she said.

Today, Johnson and 246 other volunteers from a number of organizations will receive citations at the 1997 Mayor's Community Volunteer Awards ceremony for work they performed last year. The event will be at 2 p.m. in the Curran Room at City Hall.

"The awards ceremony gives these people a chance to be recognized for their community work," said Dorothy Jordan, a citywide coordinator for Neighbors United, the group that is holding the ceremony on behalf of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "They're outstanding people who have performed acts of kindness."

The recipients were nominated for the award by relatives and co-workers, she said.

Johnson, who was nominated by a co-worker, was born partially blind and suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that caused her to slowly lose her vision.

"My parents didn't know what was happening to me," said Johnson, who grew up in Lyman, S.C. "They just thought I was careless every time I bumped into something."

Johnson was the second of 19 children born to sharecroppers. After high school, she moved to Baltimore, where she attended what is now Morgan State University.

Upon graduation from Morgan, where she earned a bachelor's degree in home economics, Johnson started a teaching career at a local beauty and barbering college while volunteering at Montebello State Hospital. She also helped put several of her siblings through college.

In the early 1980s, as her vision worsened, Johnson was taught how to travel by herself. It was during this time that she began volunteering at the National Federation of the Blind.

"She is willing to do anything that needs doing," says James Gashel, a volunteer at the federation for 23 years. "She can fit into any task, whether it's putting stamps on envelopes or counseling another blind person."

Johnson also prepares food for the group's leadership seminars and serves on its local art auction committee. She has spoken to members of Congress and local lawmakers about legislation for the blind.

"There hasn't been much that Doris hasn't done," says Marie Cobb, a volunteer at the federation. "We literally have to make her stop working."

Pub Date: 4/21/97

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