When Marilyn Gaut moved to Asbury with her husband Hal 10 years ago, she was wary of adding to her already-busy volunteer schedule by jumping into the many opportunities the community offers for those interested in serving others.
But after a gradual process of removing herself from those commitments, Marilyn began joining programs and committees that matched her talents and passions. Today she is one of Asbury’s go-to volunteers.
“Who knows how you end up being like you are,” says Marilyn. “I enjoy helping people. My folks volunteered to do a lot of things in their community. Maybe that’s part of it. When I got into my 30s, I got the feeling that I wanted to be helping somewhere. What is life for?”
As a long-time volunteer with the Montgomery County Literacy Council, Marilyn was approached to join Asbury's branch, which provides English as a Second Language lessons to many of Asbury’s highly diverse associates. She now heads the program on campus, recruiting and training new volunteers. Currently, Marilyn is tutoring associates from Mexico and Sri Lanka. Click here to read a Washington Post article on the program.
She estimates the bulk of her time is spent with Asbury’s national award-winning program, the Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative. Named after Martin Luther King, Jr., and established by resident Rev. Hal Garman, the program works with city and county government, schools and community service organizations to establish connections with at-risk youth in the area. As one of Beloved Community’s elementary school mentors, Marilyn meets with a student every other week and also takes part in other events and programs that are part of the Initiative. In September, Marilyn was part of a group that took several dozen students to the National Book Fair in Washington, D.C., where they met civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Around this time each year, Marilyn and her husband Hal begin focusing their efforts on one of her favorite volunteer duties – Asbury’s Annual Elves Day. As chief elves, Marilyn and Hal are in charge of organizing the collection of gifts to create holiday gift bags for every resident of Kindley Assisted Living and the Wilson Health Care Center. A tradition for more than 25 years, Elves Day is a main event of the Asbury Guild, a philanthropic society run by Asbury residents. Delivery and assembly day starts early in the Rosborough Center Community Rooms, which seem to fairly glow red, green and gold with all the wrapping paper and ribbons. Marilyn and Hal appear to be everywhere that day, running hither and yon in their elf hats and vests.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” Marilyn says. “The other day I ran into an associate who works at Kindley Assisted Living and she told me how much the gift bag and visit meant to them. And we always get lovely notes. There’s no lack of people, including associates, who want to help and be part of the experience.”
She and Hal - who are both the second generation of their family to retire at Asbury - also form a team for Village Life, Asbury’s semi-monthly resident newspaper.
“I worked on my hometown newspaper for three summers and loved it,” Marilyn says, although after college she decided to pursue teaching and spent 30 years as a home instructor teaching English, History, as well as science and math when called upon to do so.
She now serves as the newspaper’s editor for her apartment building, Trott, reporting on news and new residents there, in addition to writing articles on other topics when assigned. Hal is one of the community’s unofficial staff photographers, recording on-campus special events such as a recent musical staged by residents and taking photos for Village Life. On Labor Day, Hal got a workout running alongside Asbury’s float in the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade, capturing all the residents who participated.
Marilyn acknowledges that there are certain times when deadlines and events from her various activities converge and she wonders what she was thinking when she said ‘yes’. But she feels that’s an intermittent downside to the many positive benefits she gets from being involved. Each Fall, the community holds a informational fair where residents set up tables presenting information on all of events, clubs and committees around campus.
Her advice for new residents is to follow the same process she used when she moved to Asbury: “You know what you’re interested in and what you enjoy. Talk to people and see what is available and then follow your passion. You won’t have any problem finding out about things – people approach you pretty quickly. I had a person approach me about literacy volunteering soon after she moved in, and I’m afraid I may have waited too long to get her training scheduled. You have to get them quick before they become too involved,” she laughs.