Helping Others as a 'Two-Way Street'

Helping Others as a 'Two-Way Street'

Vienna resident receives recognition for work with senior citizens

If sorting through Medicare is one of the many challenges of retirement, Charles Hunt doesn't seem to scare easily. Over the past year he single-handedly dealt with 112 people seeking guidance with policies that would make even seasoned bureaucrats squirm.

Hunt, who turned 83 last week, has been volunteering with the Virginia Insurance Counseling & Assistance Program for 13 years. When Medicare enacted changes in its program in 2006, the office saw its calls for help jump by 44 percent.

"I never know when I pick up the phone and call somebody what their particular question is going to be," Hunt said. "The most difficult part of it is the uncertainty because you've got to be prepared to talk to the people and to calm them down if they're excited or whatever and do some research to get the best possible answer that you can for them."

Howard Houghton, director of VICAP, nominated Hunt for the 2007 Met Life Foundation Team Support Award. He received the "Silver Award" in a Washington D.C. ceremony earlier this month.

"He has a way of calming a person down like a grandfather, almost," Houghton said. "It's a great thing to rely on."

Hunt, who grew up in New Hampshire, came to the area after serving in the army during World War II and earning a Purple Heart. He spent 30 years as a systems analyst for the Air Force while living in Vienna and raising a family. When he decided to stop working full-time, he looked toward other goals.

"When I retired, which was many years ago, I had a plan," he said.

"I said, well, what should I do? I had a pretty good pension, I had three kids, two in college. I just said, well, what don't I know? One thing I didn't know anything about was how to repair my lawn mower, so I got a little job downtown working for a lawn mower place and did that for a year or two. Now I repair my own lawn mower. Next plan, I didn't know anything about home insurance, [so] I got a job at Geico part-time."

After taking tax preparation classes with a friend, Hunt began volunteering with the Internal Revenue Service helping people sort out their taxes. His curiosity about insurance led him to volunteer at VICAP which, before the rise of computers, meant showing up at people's houses and helping sort through their bills.

"Now, most of my volunteer work is done in an office," Hunt said. "It's mostly telephone calls. There's a lot more people with questions now than there were then. The advantage of the old days was you went to a person's home, you got to know them, you went back. I had some really wonderful experiences with the people I tried to help ... But the advantage of today is you have all that information in the office."

Even at 83, Hunt still doesn't see himself slowing down. He maintains that his volunteering efforts are a "two-way street," which allows him to continue feeding his curiosity while helping others in between trips to the golf course.

"It's always rewarding to try to help somebody," Hunt said. "It's rewarding for me because I'm always learning something ... It's a lot better to get out and do things like that rather than sit here and look at the boob tube. I got my buddies that I play golf with. We discuss the problems of the world and the problems of the Redskins and all that."

"He's a real selfless guy," Houghton said. "He's very adamant about making sure these people get help."