Why do we volunteer? As a volunteer myself, I never gave this topic much thought until the editorial committee of Senior Line determined to feature volunteering in an upcoming edition.
A volunteer is someone who offers their service of their own free will or without being asked. Most people who volunteer do so because they are making a contribution to society or to a selected part of society. Some volunteer because of values that have been instilled in them or are part of their heritage, or because of the examples that others have set.
Volunteers are the backbone of every not-for-profit organization that exists. They run the gamut of everything that an organization does: sit on boards of directors, raise funds for the operation of the organization, plan and chart the future of the organization, visit seniors who are shut-ins or visit the sick and infirm. These are but some of the ways that volunteers make an enormous contribution.
My interest in volunteering likely came from observing my parents while growing up in what was considered rural Surrey in the late 1940s and 1950s. Both were involved in the Royal Canadian Legion and the Newton Athletic Club. I became involved in a number of organizations that included the B.C. Association of Social Workers, Habonim Dror Camp Miriam, the Performing Arts Lodge, Congregation Beth Israel and, more recently, Jewish Seniors Alliance. My motivation? To use my experience in supervision, management and organizational development. What could I do to make a difference? It was important for me to believe in the purpose and direction of the organization and how I could fit in. I have never wanted to be a spectator but an active contributor to the positive evolution of an organization and, of course, to the services they provide.
Norman Franks represents the quintessential volunteer. Franks is a native Vancouverite whose family has a long history in the city. During his student days at the University of British Columbia, he served as president of Hillel House. At the invitation of brothers Jeffrey and Peter Barnett, who helped pioneer the establishment of Variety Club in Vancouver, Franks became a member. He agreed with the purpose of Variety and, perhaps more important, identified with them because of being the parent of a severely challenged child.
Franks also has been involved with State of Israel Bonds, as executive director and as volunteer, he was involved with Project Isaiah, the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation, Vancouver Talmud Torah and the Mountain View Cemetery Restoration Committee. He has served on the board of Beth Israel and, for the past nine years, has served as parnass, helping with the administration of the congregation. Franks works for the personal satisfaction he gets from the task at hand. In his own words, “I feel blessed and volunteering is my way of showing gratitude.”
Courtney Cohen, 27, sets the standard for younger people who demonstrate a passion for volunteering. In 2013, while brainstorming with Lynne Fader, co-executive director of the Kehila Society of Richmond, Rose’s Angels was born. Cohen’s inspiration comes from her late grandmother, Rose Lewin, who she describes as “the most compassionate and selfless person I have ever known.”
Rose’s Angels is a yearly event that provides a special package to assist people who live in poverty. Agencies that received packages this year included the Jewish Food Bank, Chimo Outreach, Richmond Family Place, Turning Point Recovery and many others. The decision of what to include in the packages was based on what the agencies’ clientele needed, such as non-perishable food, toiletry items and warm socks, toques, gloves and scarves. Donations came primarily from individuals and, on Feb. 14, more than 40 volunteers recruited by Cohen gathered at Richmond Jewish Day School to assemble and deliver a total of 400 care packages and 750 warmth bundles. Cohen said she measures success by “knowing others are benefiting from our care packages and the satisfaction felt by all volunteers and donors.”
Elayne Shapray, z’l, represented a special class of volunteers for her courage and for her convictions. She was a registered nurse by profession and graduated from the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. In her own words, “Volunteering was always in my blood and I had the luxury of not having to work. I wanted to give back to the community. I got more from volunteering.” Shapray had an enviable record for the volunteering she undertook: Planned Parenthood, palliative care at Vancouver General Hospital, helped start L’Chaim Adult Day Centre, UBC Women’s Resources, served on the boards of Jewish Family Service Agency and Beth Israel – it was Shapray who initiated the annual coat drive at BI 22 years ago.
At age 39, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but she never disclosed her malady to the organizations she volunteered with so she would not receive any special treatment. Her days as an active volunteer ended about two years ago. Her most recent diagnosis was progressive secondary MS and, from 2011, she had been in the media about the “right to choose,” physician-assisted dying. She will be remembered for her caring, involvements and beliefs.
Larry Shapiro is a “wild and crazy guy.” He is energetic, entertaining and fun to hang out with. He and his wife, Dianne, moved to Vancouver from Montreal more than two years ago to be closer to family. In Montreal, he was involved with civil
defence, Zionist causes and his Masonic lodge. He became an advocate for his very independent late mother’s well-being, ensuring all her needs were being met.
As a new Vancouverite, it was important for him to meet new friends and to become involved. Initially, he joined Oakridge Seniors’ Centre, where he now sits on the board of directors. Shortly thereafter, he met Serge Haber, the founder of JSA, who invited him to volunteer as a peer counselor. After meeting the program’s trainer, Grace Hann, Shapiro entered the 55-hour training program. Today, he has five seniors with whom he is in regular face-to-face contact, and he is now on the executive committee of JSA.
Shapiro has some thoughtful insights about seniors who may feel isolated, lonely and possibly depressed, and believes that interaction with seniors in need requires more than mere physical care. He noted, “Listening is important and it is something not all of us do well. People have a story to tell and they want to relive their lives through storytelling even if it’s repetitive. I have seen the positive effects that peer counseling can make. It is often an instantaneous and spontaneous return to normalcy because it involves another person who listens and cares unconditionally.”
Do volunteers make a difference? Re-read this article and you will know the answer.
Ken Levitt is a vice-president of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver and a former chief executive officer of Louis Brier Home and Hospital. A longer version of this article will be printed in a forthcoming Senior Line.