If it wasn't for Smokey, the chance meeting of Chuck Beck and Fred Stamm wouldn't have happened.
Smokey is a golden retriever who travels with Beck, his owner, and waits patiently for him in his pickup truck on errands around town.
Stamm is the formerly homeless amputee whose life turned around thanks to Beck and that chance meeting years ago.
Although Beck, a longtime Severna Park resident, had noticed Stamm parked in his wheelchair on a street corner or sidewalk and maybe passed him a few dollars in the past, he had never spoken to him at length.
But Beck took more notice of the man when he gently pet and talked to Smokey, who Beck considers an “ambassador of goodwill” in the community.
The two became friends and spent time talking, always with Smokey along on the visit.
“What defined Fred for me, was the college offers and that he quit school after his senior year [of high school],” Beck said. “And he’s very sharp, on stats and baseball.”
Decades ago, Stamm, now 47, was a strapping 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound former all conference linebacker at Andover High School, where he was in special education classes. But he dropped out in his senior year after the teasing became too much. In the following years, after his mother died and father remarried, he left home.
He became a local fixture in town and also along the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, sleeping outdoors, mostly, or under cover of a gazebo for many years.
Beck changed the course of Stamm’s life both physically and emotionally in May 2010 when Stamm’s diabetes became life-threatening and he was hospitalized, then placed in a nursing home. Beck navigated through Medicaid and Social Security to acquire Stamm's benefits while acting as his advocate at the facilities.
"From there, I took him on as a personal project," Beck said.
“There are 8 million programs, but you have to have a personal advocate to do it. It becomes a full-time job,” he said of the government maze.
While Stamm was recuperating in a nursing home, Beck organized helpers to make sure he would have food and clean clothes upon his release. He also found him a place to live—with a roof. Stamm now pays rent and “feels good about himself,” Beck said.
Stamm found another home at the Bay Area Community Church in Crownsville that welcomes him every Sunday when Beck brings him to church. Members have donated time, money, volunteers, prayer visitation and "a sense of belonging for someone who hadn't had that sense in 10 years," said Beck.
Beck said he coordinates the caretaking with Phyliss Beardmore, a creative writing teacher at Severn School, who gives of her time to helping Stamm, including doing his laundry and meeting him for coffee at Dunkin Donuts every morning to check on him.
Stamm now has a job as a “sign waver” for Clement Hardware, the first job he’s held in 10 years—thanks to Beck who is recruiting local mom-and-pop businesses to hire him a few hours a week.
According to Beck, guerilla marketing is “sprouting up all over the country," giving mom-and-pop shops that don’t want or can’t afford national advertising a chance to compete—while helping the needy. “It’s a good fit,” Beck said.
Gordon Clement, owner of the family-run business, is pleased with the arrangement.
“I’ve had many positive comments from customers,” Clement said.
"Business partnerships take the [homeless] phenomenon plaguing our country to a deeper level," said Beck, who believes in volunteerism over the “impossibility of government aid that doesn’t trickle down to people.”
“Now he holds his head up—he’s a personable person, he has a new life,” Beck said.
Editor's Note: If you would like to donate items to Fred Stamm, or become his employer, call Chuck Beck at 410-320-6260 or email email@example.com.