Interview of August 20, 2012 with Stefan Wesselmann
Herr Reichert-Schüller, could you please tell us an example of your work with elderly people – maybe your favorite project?
My favorite project could be placed under the theme “learning and life assistance”. We work with the Highschool Schriesheim, with the aim of improving the school performance of teenagers from eighth to tenth grade. We help them in the majors mathematics, English and German. This will give them more security, improve their opportunities and prepare them for a future career. I particularly like this project because the young people are at a complicated age and we contribute to their ability to face the challenges of their life phase. With the ASS they have a third point of contact next to family and school. The women in our club look after girls, the men look after boys. Especially the girls open up very often and talk about things that they perhaps would not tell at home. In this sense, this project is not just tuition. We also read newspapers together, talk about current events or go to a museum.
Please give short examples of your projects.
We offer projects “from cradle to grave”. Thus we are rental grandmas and grandpas for one to three year old children: there are many newcomers in Schriesheim and the grandparents live too far away. We also help out in nursing homes. In most of our tasks we focus on people. However, we also help otherwise. For example there are the Talhof and the Mühlenhof, two institutions of the Evangelische Stadtmission Heidelberg. Those institutions are for people who have had bad luck in life. For the Talhof we sell vegetables in front of the Old City Hall in Schriesheim that the residents have grown themselves. And for the Mühlenhof we have sold Christmas trees. For the city of Schriesheim we have offered holiday games for children.
Which activities do you not accept and why not?
We do not take offers in which we would take away other people’s work. However, we sometimes make an exception. For example, we helped an old lady who could no longer pay services. We do nothing we are not allowed to or that we are not trained for: we do not give injections or distribute medication. We also cannot undertake heavy physical work because most of us are already well over 60 years old. And we will not be taken advantage of. We were already asked by well-paid citizens to come by for snow removal at seven in the morning.
How did you come to the ASS Schriesheim? Who are your association colleagues?
The ASS has been operating for five years. We currently have 66 members who usually live in retirement. 90 percent of us are over 65 years old. We come from all professions. Electrical engineers belong to us as well as accountants, teachers or nurses. 70 percent of us are women. We all live in Schriesheim and limit our activities to our community. In a strict sense however, we are not locals – locals would probably go to the more traditional clubs. I myself worked as a chemist and moved to Schriesheim 32 years ago. When I retired, I first attended lectures at the University of Mannheim. But I had the impulsion to help people, and together with a friend I developed the original idea for the ASS. Our mayor was immediately filled with enthusiasm. We of the ASS want to support people in our society who need help.
Do the people you work for give something back to you?
There is the beautiful concept of the “volunteer egoist”. We would not be working for others, if we wouldn’t sometimes get a thank you or other positive feedback. Impulsions that are important to us are – in this ranking – joy, gratitude and also the good feeling of being needed.
About networking: who are your partners?
Maybe I can call it a “network” if for example nursing homes often come to us voluntarily. We have a number of good relationships: to the mayor, to the administration, to the political parties, to the local council, to the local newspapers, to the municipality’s newsletter or to the Arbeiterwohlfahrt. Basically, we take no money from the public purse. We do not want tax money and also require no membership fees, but we finance by donations from individuals and companies. A friend of mine has collected at his birthday party 700 Euros, a law firm advises us free of charge, and a bakery washes our dishes. These are little things that help us a lot.
But you also get financed through prizes won in competitions?
Right. During competitions that have been advertised by companies and foundations, we have already won 800 Euros, or another time 3000 Euros. We managed the big hit two years ago, when we were awarded 20 000 Euros by the Körber Foundation in Hamburg as part of the nationwide competition “Commitment of the 50-plus Generation”. There is money but you must look around, you need a good idea and of course you need luck.
How would you describe the main idea of your association?
We have two goals. On one hand we want to help people or facilities as seniors, on the other we want to give seniors the opportunity to get involved. Our oldest member was 86 years old. In times of demographic change we see seniors like ourselves as part of the problem but also as part of the solution. What is possible in Schriesheim, where 66 people want to be there for 14 000 residents, should also work in other places. We have already presented our project to other communities. Germany had never seen so many, so well trained, so healthy and so wealthy seniors as today. The ASS will offer them a kind of voluntary exchange – with a wide range of activities that will hopefully appeal to many interested persons.
Where can someone go, that wants to get involved in the ASS Schriesheim?
Our office is open every Wednesday from ten to twelve o’clock in the morning. See our website for details of contact: www.ass-schriesheim.de.
Karl Reichert-Schüller was born in Nuremberg in 1946. After completing his chemistry degree at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, he moved to Schriesheim and worked at Roche Diagnostics, Mannheim. Karl Reichert-Schüller is married and has two adult daughters. In his spare time, he runs, cycles and reads.