Joe Gentile volunteers with CASA to help women

As a volunteer for CASA, an area man hopes his time will make a difference in the lives of abused women

January 14, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Joe Gentile of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., has been a volunteer with Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA, since 2005. Moving furniture, picking up donations, unpacking supplies and landscaping around the center are among his many duties. He said he volunteers "for the women who have suffered at the hands of some very abusive, aggressive bad men."
ByYvette May/Staff Photographer

The road from crisis to confidence isn't an easy one — not when you've dealt with years of broken bones, black eyes and a constant litany of verbal threats.

It's a road that often takes a lot of twists and turns.

But, often, the path leads to CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused).

Here, victims hope to escape a life of uncertainty and beatings and break the cycle of domestic violence.

They expect to be welcomed by a group of women who will offer support and counseling through a traumatic experience.

They don't expect to see a man.

But a journey shared is a journey halved.

And Joe Gentile wants to do his part to help abused women find a better way of life.

Since 2005, Gentile has been a volunteer with CASA.

Every Wednesday, he leaves his home in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and heads to the nonprofit organization's offices in Hagerstown, where he performs a variety of tasks.

Some days, he's moving furniture into CASA's shelter. Other days, he's picking up donations or unpacking boxes of supplies.

In warm weather, it's not unusual to see him outside landscaping the office grounds.

"It was one of the first things I did when I arrived at CASA," Gentile said. "I wanted to make it more appealing, more visually cheerful to women coming here for help. It's a way of saying ‘from this point on, your life is going to be a little better.'"

Gentile, who will be 68 in February, said he began volunteering with CASA after seeing a number of women in his community "who were obvious victims of domestic violence."

A member of Hancock United Methodist Church, Gentile said he approached his pastor about what he could do for the women, other than praying for them.

"My pastor was familiar with CASA and knew they needed someone to do some heavy lifting," Gentile said.  "He asked if I would like to work one day a week. And, naturally, I said yes."

The Morgan County man said he has become somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades at CASA, doing chores at both the office and the Hagerstown shelter.

"I feel, in a small way, I'm making a difference in women's lives," he said. "I'm doing something that will, hopefully, make their day better."

Though he's considered indispensable by CASA's staff, Gentile modestly said "it's no big academic achievement. It's just a day of manual labor. I don't do it for the acclaim."

He does it, he said, for "for the women who have suffered at the hands of some very abusive, aggressive bad men."

Gentile said he sees the fear in the eyes of women who have just arrived at CASA.

"Because of what they've been through, because I'm a male, some of them recoil — emotionally and physically — when I walk into a room," he said. "I introduce myself and let them know I'm here to help."

Gentile has lived in Berkeley Springs since 1990. He originally hailed from Saginaw County, Mich., and spent 28 years in the U.S. Navy. He retired but his wife continued to work for General Motors in Glen Burnie, Md., until the company closed its doors in 1989.

Gentile said his wife was offered a transfer to either Florida or the GM plant in Martinsburg, W. Va. She chose Martinsburg.

Upon his retirement, Gentile said he resigned himself to being a house husband. But when his wife's health declined because of breast cancer, he became her primary caregiver.

Gentile said his wife died several years ago and doing volunteer work helps him fill a void.

In addition to CASA, he is a weather observer for the National Weather Service, volunteers at Cacapon State Park and is a caretaker for 350-acre Eidolon Natural Preserve in western Morgan County.

He also is an ardent naturalist and his two-acre property is a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

The love and care of wildlife is something that developed as a child, he said.

"Even as a little toddler, my mother gave me the chore of filling the bird feeder," he said.

One of the first things he did when he moved into his home in Berkeley Springs 21 years ago was to hang up a bird feeder.

"Now, I'm a regular stop in the lives of third generation birds coming to Joe's backyard," he joked.

Gentile hopes to continue volunteering at CASA for as long as he can.

"It's very rewarding," he said. "I'm very happy that I've been given this opportunity. I'm trying, in a small way, to make a tangible difference in people's lives."

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