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Giving spirit

Volunteering is a way of life for Charlestown resident John Lorenz

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June 27th, 2017
Former high school teacher John Lorenz volunteers daily at the community’s continuing care health services neighborhood. He also helps with Charlestown’s TV station, Treasure Sale, Little Theater, and Joyful Sounds chorale.

Former high school teacher John Lorenz volunteers daily at the community’s continuing care health services neighborhood. He also helps with Charlestown’s TV station, Treasure Sale, Little Theater, and Joyful Sounds chorale.

The adage “It’s better to give than to receive” embodies the spirit of Charlestown, the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md. Currently, one third of Charlestown residents volunteer with dozens of different organizations, including homeless shelters, libraries, elementary schools, and churches.

One such volunteer, John Lorenz, began helping out at Charlestown just months after he and his wife Charlene moved from Upperco two years ago.  

“I’ve always been a volunteer in some capacity,” says John. “I like to help out and use the gifts the Lord gave me the best I can.”

A former Baltimore County high school teacher, John has always had a passion for helping people. He spends an hour or more most days visiting residents of Charlestown’s continuing care health services neighborhood and lending a hand with special events. 

“My mother-in-law lived at Charlestown for ten years, eight of them independently and the last two in assisted living and then nursing care,” says John. “When we would visit her, I noticed that not everyone had family members visiting them, so I began volunteering as a visitor.

“People really do appreciate it, even if it’s someone just dropping in to say hi or exchanging ideas,” he adds. “It’s satisfying to be able to provide that type of support to people. It really makes my day when somebody says they enjoy seeing me.” 

Here to help

Research shows there’s a reason John feels good when he helps others. It’s called a “helper’s high.” The term was coined by psychologist Allan Luks, who established that helping others releases endorphins in the same way that vigorous exercise or meditation does. Luks concluded that this biochemical reaction results in stress relief, which can benefit the immune system and support overall better health.

A 2013 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University seems to support Luk's theory that volunteering is good for you. According to the study, older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours a year decrease their risk of hypertension or high blood pressure by 40%. 

The study, published by the American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Aging journal, suggests that volunteer work may be an effective nonpharmaceutical option to preventing hypertension, which affects an estimated 65 million Americans and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Linda Fried, a professor of public health at Columbia University Medical Center, stresses that, as longevity increases, staying both physically and socially active becomes more important.

“Volunteering helps achieve both goals. The social networks of people tend to decline as they age; family and friends move away or die. Volunteering can replace these ties, and their well-being and happiness benefits,” says Fried in an article that appeared in U.S. News and World Report.

“The other thing that is really important to people, particularly as they get older, is that they feel they’ve made a difference being on the planet,” says Fried. “That’s a deeply personal sense of meaning, particularly as people take stock of their lives.”

Perfect pair

Charlestown Volunteer Coordinator Kathleen Hart helps match community members with their volunteer interests. 

“The volunteers at Charlestown are amazing and inspiring,” says Hart. “Their enthusiasm is endless. They have the biggest hearts and are the most involved and caring group of people I’ve ever met. Mr. Lorenz is no exception. You can always spot him running around the campus wearing a baseball cap and a smile. His boisterous personality is infectious, and he’s well loved as a volunteer.”

Volunteering has been a part of John’s life for decades. After graduating from Calvert Hall, a private Catholic High School for boys located in Baltimore, he later returned to the school to volunteer as a Christian Brother teaching religion and science for nothing more than just room and board. 

“Those were some of the best years of my life,” says John, who is also a long-time member of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic-based fraternal service organization. 

In 2016, Charlestown neighbors donated 200,000 volunteer hours to various causes. For John, that included the community’s in-house television station, Little Theater, Treasure Sale, Joyful Sounds chorale, and a team of residents who remove invasive plants from around the 110-acre community. 

John says he loves being able to help wherever he can. 

“Volunteering is a big part of my life,” he says. “It’s helped strengthen my faith. It’s really been rewarding.”

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