Montgomery County volunteers honored

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Rebekah Alcalde

                          Miriam Kelty

Dr. Miriam Kelty has kept very busy post-retirement — to say the least.

The career psychologist and researcher now spends most of her time volunteering — from sitting on various committees and boards, to chairing organizations, teaching ethics, and advocating for older adults. She is also the founder of a consortium of local aging-in-place villages called the Washington Area Villages Exchange.

How does she fit it all in? “I’m an excellent scheduler,” she joked.

And her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. For her consistent and diverse volunteer service, Kelty is one of two county residents being honored with the Neil Potter Path of Achievement Award — one of several awards presented each year by the Montgomery County Volunteer Center. The other winner is Marilyn Simonds, who lives in Rockville.

The Path of Achievement award recognizes county residents age 60 or older whose “accomplishments and lifelong commitment to volunteer service make them outstanding roles models for young and old alike.”

A long NIH career

Before retiring in 2007, Kelty, who lives in Bethesda, had spent nearly 40 years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where, among other things, she focused on scientific ethics, and was the founder and longtime chair of the NIH Inter-Institute Bioethics Interest Group.

Kelly’s final position at NIH was as associate director of the Institute of Aging, which is where she developed a passion advocating for older adults. But she has long been an advocate for women and minorities.

While at NIH in the 1980s, Kelty mentored many female colleagues, and formed a year-long mentorship program for minority scientists that became highly competitive. “I played a role in the career development of a number of people,” she said proudly. “And I emphasized to them the importance of volunteer service.”

After retiring, she remained connected to science by serving as an evaluator and judge for the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search (previously sponsored by Westinghouse, and then Intel). And she still volunteers as a teacher a NIH on the subject of policy and practice in clinical research.

The most fun she’s had volunteering? She was a volunteer diver for the Magothy River system restoration project in Anne Arundel County. “We looked at oyster growth and restoration on an artificial reef in the river,” she explained.

Helping neighbors everywhere

After retiring, Kelty was asked by a neighbor to help form a “village” of seniors in their neighborhood. Together, they founded such an association: Bannockburn Neighbors Assisting Neighbors — an “all volunteer intergenerational village,” Kelty calls it.

But she went further, helping villages active throughout the greater Washington area communicate with each other. The Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) she founded now connects 58 villages. WAVE hosts quarterly discussions, where “people interested in developing villages can learn from each other,” she said.

Kelty believes the village movement is important. “Villages make people feel more comfortable about staying in their homes. They help build a sense of community,” she explained.

Kelty also helped write important studies for the Montgomery County Commission on Aging. There she headed the Aging in Place Committee, which prepared reports on ridesharing transportation for seniors as well as the village system. Her findings were later used to develop programs and policies within the county.

Today, Kelty continues to sit on several boards and committees, including the program committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Montgomery County Aging and Disability’s Guardianship Advisory Committee, and the Institutional Review Board of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Somehow, she still finds time for herself. Kelty regularly plays tennis and swims, and she and her husband Ed usher at many of the local theaters.

She is also an avid potter. “It was something I always wanted to do,” she said, “and I decided once I retired I would have time to do it.” True to form, she donates bowls she makes to Empty Bowls, an organization that raises money to combat hunger.

She’s so serious about her craft, in fact, that “Wednesdays are always a big no-no for meetings because that is her studio day,” said Pazit Aviv, the friend and colleague who nominated her for the award.

A career in volunteer service

                     Marilyn Simonds

At 90, Marilyn Simonds is busier now than she could have imagined after retiring in 1989.

For more than 27 years, Simonds has worked for Olney Help — a nonprofit that provides food, referrals and financial assistance to individuals and families in need in the Greater Olney area. She spent the last 14 years as its director, and is only now stepping down.

But Simonds had a good reason for staying active all these years. “I wasn’t going to stay home all day by myself after my husband died,” she said. “And I like helping people.”

She originally heard about Olney Help after her minister asked churchgoers for volunteers. After working as an officer, then secretary of the board, she stepped in to fill the vacant director position temporarily. Then, when they couldn’t find a permanent replacement, Simonds decided to remain in the position.

While working as director, Olney Help flourished. With Simonds’ help, they increased the size of the board, updated the organization’s by-laws, and created job descriptions for key roles and profiles for each board member.

She also expanded the size of the treasury through grants, added a database to record client deliveries and other volunteer information, updated and expanded their website, and managed their day-to-day activities. Her final lead project was the two-year construction of a food pantry slated to open next month.

Simonds is proud of the work they accomplished. “I feel like we have established and stabilized our organization so it’s going to continue,” she said.

Jacqui Vok, her newly elected successor, is the person who nominated Simonds for this award. “Marilyn is such a great role model for women. Everyone I talk to can’t believe the number of volunteer jobs she does each day, week and month. I’m convinced it keeps her young,” she said.

After officially transitioning out of her role as director, Simonds will still be plenty busy. She has decided to stay on as ex-officio board member for Olney Help for a year, and divides her remaining time working for several organizations, including Manna Food Center, a  nonprofit that combats hunger in Montgomery County.

She is also a circle leader at her church, volunteers for the Homemakers Club for Montgomery County Fair, and works at the Montgomery MedStar gift shop a few days a month. Her favorite job, though, is as a front desk representative for the OASIS program of Suburban Hospital, where Simonds used to work as a nurse.

OASIS is a national organization that educates and enhances the quality of life for older adults, with support from local hospitals and businesses. They host speakers and offer programs, ranging from art classes to lectures on contemporary issues. Simonds works with them every other Tuesday, and loves the interpersonal nature of the position.

“I meet a lot of new people, and see others I’ve known before,” she said. “Oasis has quite a few volunteers, so you get to know many people.”

As of now, Simonds has no plans to slow down her working schedule. After stepping down as Olney Help director, “I will continue all my other work,” she said.

And even though she has no plans to add any new work, her generous and active personality usually decide otherwise. “Sometimes things come up. They need somebody to help, so I help,” she laughed.

The awards ceremony

Marilyn Simonds and Miriam Kelty will be honored and presented their awards on Monday, April 24 at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md.

In addition to the Path of Achievement awards, Montgomery Serves awards will be presented to Jeremy Lichtenstein (individual award), Anjali Kalra (youth award), the Court Watch Montgomery Volunteers (group award), and Deloitte (business award).

The winners of the Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Award — Mark Bergel, Sol Graham and Vivien Hsueh — will also be honored.

The awards ceremony is open to the public, and admission is free. There will be a reception with hors d’oeuvres beforehand, and a dessert reception after the awards. Registration is required, and seating is limited. For more information or to RSVP, visit or call (240) 777-2600.