St. Vincent volunteer encourages gift giving

Full of energy and with the gift of gab, St. Joseph, Cockeysville, parishioner Geri Olsen is the perfect volunteer for St. Vincent Center in Timonium.

In the blink of an eye, the 65-year-old can start up a conversation with someone and have them making a donation to St. Vincent, a 70¬ bed residential facility for abused children with serious behavioral, psychiatric and/ or emotional problems.

“No matter where I am I just find I’m able to come into giving to St. Vincent’s,” said Mrs. Olsen. “I just think it’s a great cause. I’m always looking for new people who are interested.”

Some of the volunteers she has recruited, whom she refers to as her “angels,” buy Christmas gifts for the children age 12 and under who live at the Catholic Charities’ therapeutic group facility.
Mrs. Olsen collects wish lists from the staff and distributes them to supporters who call for names. The Phoenix resident also solicits area businesses for donations.

“We call her our Christmas angel,” said Ellen Torres, St. Vincent’s director of development. “She lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps St. Vincent’s year round. She knows everybody. Someone else in the store will say ‘what’s that?’ and she’ll sign up someone to be an angel or she’ll get a $500 donation from the store while she’s in there buying a gift. That’s just Geri. She’s incredible.”

The winner of the 2001 Catholic Charities’ Volunteer of the Year award said she likes to see the children’s faces when they receive a certain doll or watch. “It’s a warm feeling. The part I play in this goes directly to the children. I’m a very humble person. I feel like I have so much within myself and my family. We all feel like we need to give back to those in need.”

The gift collection project involves Mrs. Olsen’s husband, their three children and spouses and eight grandchildren. Her daughter-in-law recently held a fundraiser for the center.

“We are all very St. Vincent’s,” said the Catholic and explained that although she has visited St. Vincent’s “a million times” over 13 years, she still gets goose bumps when she drives up the driveway, views the cottages where the kids live and passes the playground.

Although her supporters inspire her greatly, Mrs. Olsen said the motivating factor is the kids who are there 24/7. “And more important than anything I do, I marvel over the fact that the staff at St. Vincent’s is so motivated. It’s quite a wonderful feeling. You can never find people that are more dedicated to the cause.”

Anyone interested in supporting St. Vincent’s Center Christmas program through donations, time, or gifts is asked to call Geri Olsen at 410-527-0789.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.