Volunteering for CJE A Winning Proposition

Over 4,000 active volunteers donate their time to CJE, some of them doing so for decades. Their contributions do not go unnoticed by CJE staff and leadership—as witnessed by a recent round of volunteer appreciation events.

We’d like to recognize the over 74,000 hours of time (worth over $1,633,000) that our volunteers donated in 2012. How do volunteers spend these thousands of hours? How do they find their way to CJE? How can one join CJE volunteers?

As Director of CJE’s Volunteer Services, Anne Schuman waxes eloquently about volunteering at CJE. “We work with heroes,” she says. How does CJE guarantee the best volunteer experience for volunteer and client or program alike? CJE works to make a marriage between the volunteer and the beneficiary of the volunteering. Schuman explains: “We need to make sure that volunteers come away with everything they want, and that clients get something out of it. Everyone has to walk away happy. Our job is to get a volunteer and another person or program, introduce them and get them to form a relationship.”

Schuman considers volunteering essential to an enriched life. “I want people to be as alive and  active as they can be for the rest of their lives,” she says. Volunteering for CJE is different from volunteering at other places: It’s not like one is volunteering with children, with their whole life ahead of them; one is volunteering with a group of people who are in the winter phase of their lives. It is up to our volunteers to bring joy into those last years, and into those last months, even into those last weeks. Volunteers often bond deeply with residents and clients. Volunteers come to memorial services of residents. Some even sit with the residents during their last hours.

When a volunteer visits, it stimulates everyone. Says Schuman: “It gets everyone excited and engaged, and they lose that ‘wheelchair mentality,’ where they sit in their wheelchair all day and wait to be taken care of.” Even younger volunteers who serve for a short period of time bond with residents. These same volunteers will come back year after year and care for those same residents.

Volunteering benefits CJE in many ways, the first of which is helping to relieve staff of many routine tasks. Volunteers can also spend more time visiting with residents and clients than staff members can. Many nurses who started as volunteers at CJE, come back to CJE to work. Turns out, volunteering can be a good recruitment tool!

The monetary value that volunteering brings to the organization is obvious, but Schuman extols that the added value of volunteering is how it impacts our clients and residents: “Think of how a dog-loving, bedridden person feels when the door opens, a dog jumps on the bed and then licks his face. You can’t buy that feeling; that’s priceless.”

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“Home-Delivered Meal volunteers are so dedicated they even come in during blizzards. They say that if they don’t work, clients will not get fed!“ –

Deborah Granite, Volunteer Services

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The Continuum of CJE Volunteers.

CJE has many ages of volunteers, ranging from newborns carried in by their volunteer parents, to some older ones in their 90s. Not only that, CJE volunteers often flow back and forth to CJE on a smooth continuum, more so than volunteers at other organizations. Some have volunteered for CJE and ended up living at Lieberman Center; others have lived at Lieberman Center and also volunteered to help there. Someone might come to Haag Pavilion for rehabilitation, after which he or she moves into Gidwitz Place and becomes a volunteer. Or, volunteers come to CJE having experienced any one of CJE’s many services. Volunteering is also a channel that leads clients to our services: volunteers often seek services that CJE can provide for their parents or friends.

Thus, CJE volunteers are avid ambassadors and promoters of the organization. That’s why Volunteer Services has started an initiative to fully educate its volunteers about what CJE means to the community. They can speak knowledgeably to older adults and their family members about CJE’s programs and services from their first-hand experiences.

Opportunities Galore.

CJE’s corps of trained and willing volunteers fans out to Weinberg Community, Lieberman Center, CJE Adult Day Services—virtually all over the CJE community—on a daily basis. They work in the various libraries, kitchens, social halls—wherever there is a CJE program or presence, there is probably a volunteer. Volunteers help feed residents, they help with  transport, they help with groups in different creative activities, they make one-on-one visits, they provide pet therapy and more. Volunteers deliver meals, and volunteers run the Gift Shop. Volunteers also pitch in for seasonal, time-intensive projects. For example, at Passover, Volunteer Services was asked to wrap and seal 250 pieces of matzoh to give out with its Home-Delivered Meals.

Where They Come From.

Many of CJE’s volunteers come because a neighbor, friend or relative suggests CJE as a worthwhile volunteer experience. Many come through curricula offered at high schools and colleges. Many others come to CJE through synagogues and churches. Jewish students often volunteer to fulfill a service component of their bar and bat mitzvahs. CJE accepts volunteers who have been court-ordered to perform some kind of community service as a sanction imposed by their probation. CJE works with several nursing schools that have communal service as a curriculum requirement. CJE volunteers from every nationality and ethnic group bring their different talents and experiences with them for a truly enriching volunteer experience.

CJE feels that it has a serious responsibility in the volunteer community to be receptive and open to large groups, unlike many other organizations. The group Tikkun Olam Volunteer (TOV), which is Jewish Federation’s volunteer network, organizes a camp every year and sends from 35 to 45 teens to CJE. CJE has always been TOV’s destination of choice because CJE has excellent volunteer opportunities for large groups.

CJE has relationships with many corporations. Employees of McGladrey and Northern Trust Bank volunteer yearly. Volunteering is a great team-building experience; when a corporate team comes in and completes a project following a full day of activities, the emotional rewards are significant. Many volunteers are very impressed with CJE and all that it does. It’s a two-way street: these corporate volunteers often develop a new appreciation for seniors and CJE residents feel like they are “king and queen for a day.”

Why They Volunteer.

Many of CJE volunteers are over 50, and may be either semi-retired or retired. For many, their volunteer commitment often gives them a renewed purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning. For others who are by nature irrepressible and energetic, their desire for personal enrichment is filled by volunteering. Many had parents who were active volunteers and they want to carry on the family tradition. Others volunteer to fulfill legal or academic requirements. And of course, at CJE, there are volunteers who are deeply committed to the Jewish traditions of tzedakah and tikkun olam—the  commandment to repair the world in some way.

To Volunteer at CJE.

Unaccompanied minors can start to volunteer at age 12, whereas many organizations require someone to be 16. This is because CJE offers many B’nai Mitzvah opportunities. To start the process, people should either go to the website, www.cje.net, and click on “Volunteer” at the top, or call 773.508.1064. After submitting an application and a personal interview to discuss volunteering options, a background check is completed. All newly-recruited volunteers then attend an orientation session to learn more about logistical matters, as well as CJE’s mission, values and vision. Volunteers receive training on HIPAA regulations that govern privacy issues for healthcare recipients.

The Volunteer Services Committee provides guidance and support to CJE’s volunteer efforts. It is chaired by Margo Oberman, a CJE Board member, who herself started out as a volunteer delivering meals.