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Durham Woman Shows Volunteering Can Make Difference In Community

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DURHAM — We all have different ideas about what we would like to do when we retire such as traveling, playing golf or doing absolutely nothing! One woman tried that for a while, but before long she decided to become a volunteer. She cashed in her retirement savings, and now the people of Durham are reaping the rewards of her labor.

Martha Strobel does not have to go to work in the mornings anymore, so she goes to school. Since she retired, Strobel volunteers twice a week to work one-on-one with fourth-graders, but the children are not the only ones who leave with a lesson.

"What I get out of it is helping these kids not feel like dummies, helping them feel like somone is paying attention to them," she says.

However, Strobel is not only building minds, she is rebuilding the Vale Street community in east Durham.

"When I came, the first few months I would spend the first hour or so picking up condoms and needles," she says.

One of the old houses in the neighborhood was in such bad shape, the city wanted to tear it down, but then Strobel stepped in. With just her passion to guide her, Strobel, who had just retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and had no experience in homebuilding, used her retirement money to restore the home for the McCormick family, who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

"To me, it's like she's a mentor to me. She is a mentor and that's why this house means a lot to me and my family," says Denise McCormick.

"Since we met her and been dealing with her and what she's done for the neighborhood, it means a lot to us, so it got us more involved as well," says Carl McCormick.

The McCormicks share Strobel's dream of making their neighborhood a safe place to raise a family. They plan to turn their old home into a daycare and dressmaking shop for the neighborhood. Strobel says her retirement has been quite an adventure, a learning experience and an investment in the future.

"Some people would say it was stupid, but my feeling is the money is growing in a different way," she says. "I just wanted to see if a person decides that he or she is going to make a difference and really puts their shoulder to the wheel can it be done and my answer is, 'Yes, it can,' and I hope more people do it."

Strobel's nonprofit agency, Circle of Justice, even set up an apprenticeship so a young man learned a trade while working to fix up the home. Despite having a stroke before the McCormicks moved into their house, Strobel has plans to restore another house.


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