Seniors Receive Tax Credit For Volunteering In Schools District Program Gives $500 Discount For 100 Hours Of Service.

Posted: November 03, 2000

COATESVILLE — The bell rings to start the lunch period at Coatesville High School, and Joe Damiani begins his rounds in the cafeteria.

Damiani, 71, serves as a volunteer counselor at the school. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. a few days a week, he circulates through the cafeteria, talking with the students about problems or just shooting the breeze.

"I like kids," said the retired bricklayer. "I have always been actively involved with children."

Damiani is one of 36 senior citizens in the Coatesville area who are involved in the district's Golden Sage program.

Created three years ago, the program offers a $500 property tax credit for senior citizens in exchange for 100 hours of volunteer service.

This school year, the typical homeowner in Coatesville pays $2,032.44 in school taxes.

Some volunteers said it is a benefit because most senior citizens live on fixed incomes. Program coordinators said they do not understand why more senior citizens are not taking advantage of the program.

According to program coordinator Stephen Devereux, about 10 people join each year.

"I would think we could have done better" with membership, said Devereux, 68, who joined the program two years ago. He said he has tried everything to get the word out about the program.

This year, Devereux has mailed brochures to 100 area seniors, made presentations at senior centers, and advertised in the Coatesville Area School District newsletter.

"I don't know what more we can do," said the grandfather of 10. "If I knew, there would be more folks in the program."

This is Damiani's first year as a Golden Sage. He said he learned about the program through an article that appeared in the school district's newsletter.

Damiani said that this is the first time he has worked with high school students. In the past, he has coached Little League teams and was a Boy Scout troop leader.

Since his involvement with Sage, Damiani said, he has had to counsel only three students.

One incident, he recalled, required him to calm a student who was upset with another male student over a girl.

"I told him to think before he acts," he said. "I've learned over the years not to be angry."

Debra Malloy, a lunch monitor and an employee in the school office, said Damiani was invaluable.

"We really appreciate him," she said. "And the kids love him. He is especially good with the special-needs students."

Sage volunteers must be at least 55. They must submit an application with the school district and undergo a police background check. Once that has been completed and approved by the district, the volunteer can sign up to work at one of the schools. The volunteers can list preferences of where they would like to serve.

Board member John "Hank" Hamilton said everyone benefits from the program.

"I think it is an excellent program for the seniors. Not just from the money standpoint," he said. "A lot of senior citizens want to feel that they can still make some contribution."

Hamilton said the volunteers bring a wealth of life and work experience to the district.

For example, Maralyn Smith, a retired registered nurse, volunteers in the office at Gordon Middle School.

Smith, 69, mostly files and helps out with the telephone, particularly during the busy part of the school year - report card time. She also sits in for the nurse occasionally.

Smith said she heard about Golden Sage through AARP. She said the tax credit captured her interest.

"I thought to myself, 'That sounds like a pretty good deal,'" she said.

Smith said the discount on her taxes is a big motivating factor.

"Five hundred dollars off school taxes, that is a pretty nice chunk of money," she said.

"I'd much rather volunteer than sit around watching TV all day," she said.

"[Seniors] need to be around people. I think it is a good thing mentally.

"I think people should take advantage of it. I'm going to participate as long as they are going to allow me to."

Nicole Barnes' e-mail address is nbarnes@phillynews.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION Adults 55 or older who live in Coatesville and who would like to find out more about the Golden Sage program may call the Coatesville Area School District's business office at 610-383-7900, Ext. 4062.

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