CJE and Me: From the Kitchen to the White House

by Mike Koen

As a Board member and chair of CJE’s Volunteer Committee, it is an honor to announce that CJE is celebrating hundreds of its incredible volunteers of all ages— who give their time and talent to advancing CJE’s mission—with a full week of recognition events from June 20–26. Preparing for this celebration has given me the opportunity to pause and really reflect on my own personal volunteer journey with CJE over the past 12 years. What I know is that volunteering for me is a way to give back to older adults in our community who truly need—and are deeply appreciative—of the help that I can offer.

My Journey with CJE

After I retired in 2004, I wanted to give back to the community that had been so generous to me. Back then, however, I wasn’t a Board member. Rather, I started my volunteer career at CJE’s Adult Day Services on Howard Street working in the kitchen. My duty was preparing plastic utensils for the lunch period, a somewhat monotonous but necessary task. The most rewarding part of the day for me was interacting with the clients, many of whom had some form of dementia. They were funny, interesting and almost always in a good mood. Yes, sometimes I had to listen to the same stories over and over, however, at the end of my day, I felt a lot better finishing my shift than I did at the beginning. I knew I had contributed to making someone’s day a little brighter. My most rewarding experience was helping a 94-year-old client connect with her family in Israel via e-mail. What a thrill!

Since then, I have volunteered for several other CJE programs, including the downtown Culture Bus and Adult Day Services at Sinai Congregation. As I became more involved and engaged, meeting more people and participating in more program areas, my interest in CJE’s mission to “enhance the lives of older adults,” continued to grow. This was not difficult since CJE’s staff truly values the work of its volunteers. Over the years, I have been able to participate in so many ways. I have even taken trips to Springfield, IL and Washington, D.C. with CJE and other Jewish Federation agencies to advocate for issues that impact seniors who reach out to CJE for help.

To summarize, I went from being a kitchen worker to going to meetings at the White House. What a second “career”!

I am definitely an enthusiastic ambassador for CJE. If you truly desire to help people in our community, I urge you to join with the hundreds of other compassionate and caring individuals who contribute their time, energy and talents to CJE SeniorLife. In turn, you will have an extremely satisfying and educational experience. Looking back, I realize how much I have learned about myself, especially how important it is to offer opportunities that allow people to age with dignity and respect. I now understand more fully what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel meant when he wrote: “The test of a people is how it behaves toward the old.”

There are a myriad of volunteer opportunities for individuals of all ages and groups, whether corporate- based or synagogue social action committees. Consider helping with a birthday party at one of our residences, delivering meals to seniors in the community or leading a discussion group on your favorite topic.

Each and every volunteer is important to CJE and that is why we want to thank you during our designated week in June. But on behalf of our staff, Board and everyone in the community who benefits from your personal commitment, please know that we are grateful for your service 365 days a year.

Why not join our dedicated corps of volunteers? It’ll be enriching for you and a valuable service for CJE! To find out more about volunteering at CJE SeniorLife, call 847.929.3040 or email volunteers@cje.net.