AIKEN - Some folks come back to their old neighborhoods to try to make a difference. Betty Gyles never left.
Ms. Gyles, the recreation program supervisor for Aiken's Smith-Hazel Community Center, still lives in the wood-frame house where she was born, just around the corner from the center on Union Street.
As a little girl, she splashed in the community center's old swimming pool with her older brother.
In 1981, she took a job at the center's summer day camp and has worked there ever since.
"One reason I took the job was because I lived in the neighborhood, and I felt I could do some things to help this community," Ms. Gyles said.
"If you want to help others, this is really one of the best places."
The Smith-Hazel Community Center is a safe haven for children and the elderly, a center of activity and public gatherings that also serves as a shelter during inclement weather.
Under Ms. Gyles' leadership, the senior citizens program flourished, from a roster of 75 when she started to more than 220 now.
Though she also works with the neighborhood youth, many of them low-income children, her passion lies in working with seniors.
Whether it's leading them in arts and crafts, taking them to the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Augusta or organizing dances, Ms. Gyles derives the most pleasure from working with the elderly.
"They're my special people, really," she said. "They're role models for me. You look at somebody who's 86, 87, 88, and you say, 'If they can do it, I can as well.'"
Around the neighborhood, she is simply "Miss Betty."
Nearly everyone knows the gregarious, energetic woman who has been a fixture at Smith-Hazel and affected so many lives for the past 23 years. She understands that with the poor and underprivileged of Smith-Hazel, small gestures mean a lot.
"It's surprising how little things, like a card, can uplift people," Ms. Gyles said.
"If I can do something for someone else, it makes my day, and I get my blessing back. You get your happiness that way."
Education: Aiken Public Schools, Augusta Technical Institute, South Carolina State College
Hobbies: Her collection of stuffed lions, lion sculptures and lion prints and paintings number more than 250. ("I'm a Leo," she explains.)
Quote: "Always put your foot in someone else's shoe, and you'll be with them as they are with you."
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