Guest Blog Post By Audrey Friedman Marcus
April 6–12 marks the 40th National Volunteer Week. For Jewish Family Service, the week provides an opportunity to recognize, praise, celebrate, and thank the 836 volunteers who are helping the agency make a huge difference to the Jewish and general communities of Denver and Boulder.
I grew up in a home in which volunteering was a priority, so when I moved to Denver in the 1950s, I became involved in a number of organizations, and before long I was elected to the board of Jewish Family Service. It was immediately clear to me that I was serving an outstanding and worthwhile agency, and I quickly became a committed JFS volunteer.
Today, in addition to volunteering as a freelance writer for JFS, I’m a member of their Holocaust Advisory Committee. All of the volunteer jobs I’ve held have been exciting and worthwhile. Not only have I learned an enormous amount, but I always feel esteemed and appreciated by the professional staff. They are consistently warm and friendly, as well as approachable and helpful. While it’s clear that they are aware of the huge monetary value of volunteers to the agency, they never lose sight of the human equation. Not surprisingly, this assessment is shared by other JFS volunteers. I recently spoke to two of them.Bernie Papper, a new JFS volunteer, recently retired after 26 years at the Intermountain Jewish News and decided to seek an opportunity to give something back to the community. Because he knew many individuals who had been helped by JFS, he made an appointment with Nancy Benyamin, Volunteer Services director at JFS. She suggested he make thank-you calls to donors on behalf of the development department. Bernie is enjoying this responsibility so much that he’s looking to do even more for the agency. “All the volunteers feel very valued,” states Bernie. “It’s an incredible place doing incredible work. The dedicated staff is like a family—and I get lots of hugs from them all whenever I go there.”
After the sudden death six years ago of her 48-year-old daughter, Lorri Stonbraker knew she needed an interest—something that would engage her mind and give her a renewed interest in life. Retired from a stressful job, she wanted to be involved in something low-key where she could make a difference. The JFS Weinberg Food Pantry turned out to be the perfect fit. For six years, Lorri has loyally shown up once a week for a worthwhile, hands-on experience that she says is always interesting. She helps clients shop, hands out food, answers questions, soothes ruffled feelings, and helps in any way she can.The clients are a diverse group—Ethiopians, Arabs, Russians, and—of course—Americans. Some dress up as if for an outing when they come. Others, who have lost everything, including their pride, are embarrassed to be there—and sometimes even burst into tears. Lorri sees it as part of her job to help everyone feel comfortable, and she’s always ready with a joke or a hug. She leaves each time with a feeling of worth, and the challenge takes her mind off her own sorrows. It’s a cause that’s easy to believe in, she says.
Those on Lorri’s shift have become very close, which provides a social aspect to the task. They help each other, calm those who are upset or ill, explain how to prepare certain foods, dry tears, and tell the women who are dressed up how nice they look.Lorri can’t say enough good things about the hardworking, friendly staff at the Weinberg Food Pantry. “They don’t take us for granted,” she says. “They’re considerate and respectful and show their appreciation at every turn. They want us to be content in our jobs and always back us up. They’re so kind, gentle, and sweet. We are really like one big happy family.”
Because of her positive experience, Lorri is a persuasive recruiter, and has brought several friends on board as JFS volunteers.Nancy Benyamin, the knowledgeable JFS Volunteer Services director, delights in meeting with prospective volunteers to discuss their talents and availability, and seems to have an instinct for the ideal placement for each. She is generous with her praise and encouragement. “Jewish Family Service began as a volunteer organization many years ago,” states Nancy, “and volunteers are still a vital part of the agency today. We are so grateful for all the help they provide to our programs. We simply couldn’t do all we need to do without them!”