US Chesed News

A view from a US Community Cares volunteer
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Thursday 4th June 2015

Why do you volunteer?

I initially got involved with volunteering because of my beloved Grandma. We were very close and when she passed away I wanted to see what she had been up to, I heard she volunteered at the synagogue so I decided to go along to one of their lunches. I walked in and recognised many of her friends - they knew me from when I was a little girl. It was such a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by the community in which I grew up and chat to these inspiring old people, that I went back again. I eventually ended up regularly volunteering and getting involved with tasks other than the lunches, stuffing envelopes and making phonecalls etc. Then one day the lady (a paid trained social worker) in charge of welfare at St John’s Wood retired and I stepped up and said I would take over from her. I teamed up with Gillian Burr who had lots of experience in catering and together we not only do the fortnightly lunches, but also oversee welfare of the elderly members. 

What you get out of it?

For me, volunteering has been a really wonderful experience. I know that I help people and make people smile and make them feel connected to the community and cared about etc and that is great, but I personally get much more out of it. Working with old people puts everything in perspective, when I am with them all my insecurities fall away, appearances are irrelevant, I have become hugely grateful for my health and I feel extremely appreciated. You realise life is a long race and its not necessary to stress so much about the details. It is particularly special to speak to the Holocaust survivors to feel a connection to the jewish people all those years ago, I heard a story recently about one of our members having a barmitzvah in a concentration camp, no tefillin but there was a minyan – it makes me cherish my life, the opportunities and freedom that I have.

Plus points

I have young children who require a lot of me and volunteering is a chance to get away from nappies and homework and use my skills to do something very meaningful (with flexible hours) between school runs and playdates. 

I involve my children as much as I can, during school holidays they come on home visits and serve at the lunches. I think it is very important to teach them about ‘giving’ and both young and old benefit by spending time together.

And the downside?

I spend a huge amount of my time and effort volunteering, sometimes I feel overstretched and too busy and I worry that I am not as efficient as I would like to be. In the end the people I work with are all volunteers and although they do put in a huge effort I can’t expect them to be as reliable as they would in a paid job.

Sometimes I come home and need a good cry, if one of the old people has passed away, or gradually got dementia, or had a fall, or I have heard someone recounting their experience of the Holocaust… but if I didn’t care and empathise I wouldn’t be the right person for this role.