Hope Blecher
Hadassah Educators Council

How Volunteering Makes My Life Sustainable

Artwork courtesy of the author.

At least once a week I feel compelled to defend why I volunteer. Has that happened to you, too? Yes, I work and yes, I volunteer. The two, working and volunteering, are not mutually exclusive and the two can complement each other.

As an educator, I plan lessons, assess students and participate in various trainings. Also, I read various articles, use a paper planning calendar for events, and communicate through phone calls, emails and social media.

As a person, I enjoy making connections. What do I mean by connections? If I meet an author and a teacher, I will introduce them to each other because that author might become a class guest for the students in that teacher’s class.

A different example occurred when I took a walk around my hometown while visiting my 90-year-old mom. She is the queen of the street and still lives in the home where she and my dad raised me and my two brothers.

What connections could come from an 8000-step walk? In addition to my feet connecting with the concrete and blacktop of the sidewalks and streets, and my ears connecting with the sounds of the birds and occasional cars, my eyes and body connected with a sign. Sometimes, when I walk, I am thinking, and it becomes a creativity walk. Other times, I walk for physical exercise. Always, the walk takes place without earbuds or a headset.

This particular time, the connection occurred during the last quarter of the walk. I was on the sidewalk and checking the distance. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign and a few flowers in a bed set back two feet or so from the edge of the sidewalk. As I passed, I felt a tug to go backwards. Those steps brought me in front of a sign about this daffodil garden. That moment, to walk back, read the sign and digest it led to a connection and to volunteering to bring the Worldwide Daffodil Project to a community 100 miles away from where I was standing.  For more about that, see my LinkedIn post of September 20, 2022.

Looking back fifty years, I do not readily recall using the word volunteer or hearing that word or one of its derivatives. Perhaps, like you, what I do recall are hours in the basement of a shul setting up for the annual bazaar. Who else was there? My parents and other Hebrew school buddies. In that same location, we would set up for the Purim Carnival. In late summer, we would put numerical stickers on the backs of chairs as we helped set up for the congregation’s Yom Tov services.

Outside of the synagogue arena, there were scouting activities. My parents weren’t paid as chapter leaders. They weren’t paid to coach PAL teams or drive carpools. My dad, rest in peace, certainly wasn’t paid to schlep boxes and boxes of Girl Scout cookies from our living room floor into New York City. What they did was participate in the PTA, the Men’s Club, the Sisterhood, the scout groups and more.

Skipping in time to my role as a school administrator, collaborating with colleagues to bring programs to the community included nights and weekends. As a salaried employee, is that expected? That might be fodder for a different column. Timewise, I was in this role prior to Covid and prior to quiet quitting and work-life balance in the media.

Rehearsals with students for our 9/11 commemoration and holding that ceremony prior to the actual school hours was part of this program. Participating in story times at the local public library, writing articles for the local newspaper, shopping for people with food insecurity and working at the food stand were activities I participated in again and again.

For Read Across America Day, I dressed up as the Cat in the Hat and visited various classrooms. I went to the local public library and to the senior center. The smiles on their faces-that was the payment.

It’s that spirit that I bring as a person who has become labeled a volunteer. My mom brings food to the people in an apartment complex who are less mobile than she is, and she shares a smile, too. Her friends voluntarily lead a Hazak group at the local synagogue.

In Hadassah, one of my many volunteer organizations, there are so many avenues for people to participate. As an ambassador for their recent Every Move Counts, I was a volunteer. That is a small drop that becomes a ripple of what occurs in this organization.

As I write this column, I am sitting at my dining room table. What comes next today? A meeting for Sullivan Renaissance at the Market Shed on the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts property. This is an event to thank the community of volunteers. On behalf of the Town of Liberty and Parksville Priorities, NY, I will be in attendance to say thank you to the grant committee for awarding us the funds to create a cultural sculpture. How does this connect to you? This will be the first public menorah erected in the hamlet.

Is monetary payment expected for the time spent writing a grant and shopping for supplies? This project became one that involved my husband and twenty-four-year-old son. Some would say they were wrangled in or dragged in as participants. Time will tell; for me, it’s time spent together on a project.

Will I be reimbursed for cleaning up the construction area, our painting area and for a manicure of my paint-stained nails? I did try to be neat. Afterall, painting outdoors as the leaves are falling in the Lower Catskills is fun.

Could Hadassah exist without volunteers? I would say that its work would not be sustainable. As the Hadassah website states, “Volunteers work in partnership with our staff, giving their time in support of our mission.” Case in point, I am not paid to craft this blog post. I volunteer.

Is volunteering out of vogue? Does it have a new label? How do you feel about working and volunteering? Please share in the comments.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I look forward to reading your comments. If you have done or do volunteer, thank you for sharing your time in support of others and of the mission of that organization.

Finally, if you will be celebrating the High Holy Days, I wish you and yours a happy, healthy and sweet new year.

About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher, a member of the Hadassah Educators Council and the Hadassah Writers' Circle, has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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