April is National Volunteer Month

Joni Abramson

In honor of National Volunteer Month, JFS Volunteer Engagement Specialist Margie Solomon tried to describe why people volunteer. What is the return on investment. After several attempts, she said, “Let me ask one of our volunteers. She can articulate it better than i can.”

Margie reached out to volunteer Joni Abramson, who was happy to share her experience.

“When I retired from my multi-year career in medical social work during the pandemic, I was concerned about becoming a complete sloth,” wrote Joni. “I was already enjoying my new life as a partial sloth. I needed to take some action for even a minimal sense of purpose and service in the world.

In the fall of 2020, I contacted JFS Volunteer Engagement Specialist Margie Solomon and expressed my interest in calling JFS clients who were lonely and isolated. I provided information about my social work background to help convince Margie that I would be a good volunteer candidate.

Margie enthusiastically welcomed me as a potential volunteer; she added that it may take time to find me just the right challenging client due to my social work background. My immediate thoughts were: ‘Oh No! I don’t want a challenging client! I want a non-challenging client.’ I realized that I was actually sort of burnt-out with my history of challenging clients; and maybe this volunteer plan was not a good idea. I thanked Margie for her efforts. I decided to trust that I would be matched with the right client… and I was.

Over the past four months, I have had calls every one to two weeks with an elderly male JFS client. He is definitely not challenging. He is delightful. These calls seem uplifting for both of us. Our calls usually last one hour. At first and sometimes still, I worry what will we talk about? We always find lots to discuss and our conversations generally flow pretty easily.

The client is engaged and open with expressing the concerns and dilemmas in his daily life. He is a bright man with curiosity and many interests. He misses activities and social events of his life prior to the pandemic. He is facing decisions of whether to stay in his house or move to an assisted living setting. He asks me questions about my life. I realize the purpose of our calls is to focus on the client. I selectively share information about my life. I seek a conscious balance of what seems important for a human connection but does not burden him or conflict with my role as a volunteer support agent.

Basically, I listen. I honor his challenges and choices. I affirm his strengths. I encourage him on his path for taking care of himself and his pursuit of life. I do not provide directions for his decisions.

Together, we both share our wisdom with each other. We talk about the mundane parts of daily life. We laugh. We care about each other. We both express enjoyment for our calls.

I have felt valued and appreciated by JFS staff. My supervisor, Tara, commented that ‘Joni is the best volunteer one could ask for — she radiates kindness and warmth. She genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her clients and shows them empathy and support. We are so appreciative that she chose to volunteer with JFS!'”

Joni finished by explaining she wasn’t sure who got more out of her volunteering. “I believe there are benefits for both myself and the client,” she said.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering at JFS, email Margie or call her at (651) 690-8907.