She takes assistance to a whole new level

It's been an eventful past few weeks for Mary Lou Schmidt even as her two-year stint as president of the Assistance League of Downey (ALD) winds down and ends this month.The most recent renovation of the 6,000-sq. ft. almost century-old Casa de Parley Johnson - ALD's home (it was bequeathed to ALD in 1986 by Johnson's widow, "Gypsy") located at 7749 Florence Avenue - that began in January was completed only 3 weeks ago. She oversaw that. As part of the deal with the Los Angeles Conservancy, to whom the house's exterior was deeded, ALD is responsible for its upkeep. This means proper maintenance of its garden (and patio), scene of many a party and social affair. This the 42-year Downey resident also oversees. Schmidt, a BS in Education graduate of Pepperdine University and who once served as Downey Family YMCA program director, says the renovation of Casa de Parley Johnson was at least 10 years overdue. "For one thing, no structural improvement had been done since 1980," she says. The hand-hewn supporting redwood beams that overhang the patio had already showed signs of rotting in several places and they had to be replaced. It had been a decade since painting was done. The original bricks forming the walkway had to be reconstructed. Total estimated cost of the intertwined makeover projects: $100,000. The new coatings on the beams had hardly dried when ALD's annual Volunteer Luncheon was held last Thursday. On May 2, the Assisteens' (one of ALD's two auxiliaries) Tea and Fashion Show followed. The next major social event: the installation of new officers this Thursday (incoming ALD president is Judy Faust). Respite at last? No. Starting June 1st, Schmidt, who was born and raised in South Gate, immediately takes over as chairman of H.O.M.E. (acronym for Housing of Medical Emergencies), an ALD collaboration with Rancho Los Amigos that provides temporary, low-cost housing to families whose loved ones undergo treatment at the medical center. Schmidt had previously served for more than five years as H.O.M.E. chairman, from the time it opened in January 1998 until about the middle of 2003. She became Philanthropic Chairman then, assuming the ALD presidency in 2007. She considers H.O.M.E. her 'baby', having been involved with its planning and early development years before it opened. Now she says she can't wait to run it again. "It's so important to me that we provide for those people whose lives change in a split-second," she says, noting that most of the cases that have been served by H.O.M.E. are produced by violent car accidents. (Rancho is world-renowned for its rehabilitative treatment of stroke, spinal injury, and head trauma patients). At last estimate, some 10,000 patient families have availed of the facility since it opened. Because of Rancho's worldwide reputation, they have come from both the U.S. and some 50 foreign countries. The availability of this on-site housing facility, says Schmidt, has been proven to "contribute directly to improved patient care by allowing family members to accompany patients on admission, be present during surgery or critical illness, assist in their daily care, and receiving training in the post-hospital care of their patient." Each of the 10 units at the H.O.M.E. facility, which is within walking distance of the hospital, features two twin beds, a dresser, night stand, telephone, TV, table and chairs, as well as a large kitchenette equipped with a microwave and refrigerator. A washer and dryer is also available, as well as a large family room lounge area. The registration office comes with a computer for families to use. Schmidt remembers the facility immediately filled up as soon as it opened in January 1998. "The fee per day has remained at $10," she marvels, "a real bargain then and now." The Assistance League of Downey is a chapter of the close to 30,000-member National Assistance League, which has its headquarters in Burbank. ALD itself has close to 200 members, some 50 active members and about 40 sustaining members and associates. Its array of programs and services, every one tailored to local communities' needs, include its famous Operation School Bell, Books-on-Wheels, Kids on the Blocks, 2nd Tyme Around Thrift Shop, etc. Its two equally active auxiliary organizations, the aforementioned Assisteens (made up of young students who support ALD programs) and the Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary (made up of professionals who attend evening meetings and perform various support activities) currently number about 56 and 43, respectively. "We have as much impact on the community as any service organization here in Downey," says Schmidt. As the latest example, she cited the Gypsy Johnson Auxiliary's donation recently of $14,500 to the TLC Family Resource Center. "Right now," she says, "the ALD leadership is focusing on attracting new members. By joining the club, they will be using their talents to work for so many good causes. We're all volunteers. It's time for these many talented people to stand up and be counted."

********** Published: May 22, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 5