New York Cares designs and manages volunteer programs at over 1,300 nonprofits and schools across the five boroughs. Many of these partnerships are multi-faceted, with volunteers often assisting clients or students in a variety of ways. Volunteers return to these partner organizations many times throughout the year as well, building strong relationships with the people they serve and creating impactful, sustainable programs.
Our work with The New Jewish Home in Harlem is a shining example of one of these deep and multi-faceted partnerships. We’ve been sending volunteers to the nursing and rehabilitation center for senior citizens for more than 20 years, and have volunteer-powered projects running nearly every night of the week in 2017.
“I've been with the organization for 17 years, and when I came to this Jewish Home seven years ago, it was very apparent how important volunteerism was here,” said Miriam Levi, Director of Community Life Activities. “Our residents have a lot of challenges, and some can't get from point A to point B without assistance. They are also New Yorkers - who love to socialize and engage. We have staff, but it's so important to have someone from the outside coming in. New York Cares volunteers help us accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
Over the past 12 months, New York Cares staff members have planned more than 200 projects and filled 3,038 volunteer positions at The New Jewish Home. These programs include Creative Writing Group where the residents have penned poems, short stories, and even memoirs, and Roseland Dance, which is one of New York Cares’ few projects open to whole families looking to volunteer and where kids and their parents help recreate the dance halls of the 1930s and 40s to take residents on a rollicking trip down Memory Lane.
The programs have developed and grown in large part due to the creativity and philosophy of The New Jewish Home’s staff.
“The New Jewish Home is a progressive health care organization, and life care system that reaches beyond the walls of the nursing home to support people as they age,” Levi said. “Our goal is to care for our residents in the most homelike environment possible. What we do with our partnership with New York Cares, is build the feeling of love, continued engagement, deep meaning and purpose, which is so important for all of us. It doesn't mean that when you go to a nursing home it has to end, but that it's just another chapter.”
The staff and residents have certainly made their impression on the volunteers who’ve served at The New Jewish Home over the years as well, with projects at the agency filled by some of the most committed volunteers. For example, Lewis Blaustein, the Team Leader for the Roseland Dance projects, has been serving at The New Jewish Home for 21 years.
“Lewis comes in the door with so much energy," said Erin Keenan, Therapy and Recreation Leader. “I've learned from him how to appreciate the volunteers. He thanks everyone, when they walk in and when they leave, by name. There is also a family that has been coming for years. They have since moved to Pennsylvania, but even then, they still come to the Roseland Dance from time to time. They stay with friends in the city and go back and forth.”
These long-term relationships have created an environment where volunteers and clients hardly exist. It seems to be more like just a group of friends or family gathering together on a regular basis to share each other’s lives. In fact, a few years ago, inspired by the multitudes of New York Cares volunteers coming in on such a regular basis, a group of residents formed the Hand-in-Hand Committee, which takes on a variety of projects around The New Jewish Home in an effort to improve the lives of others. After their holiday craft sale this winter, the committee decided to donate the proceeds totaling $1,000 to New York Cares in honor of all the good work the volunteers have contributed to the lives of the residents there.
“The committee said ‘We're just here receiving all these great things, and we want to give something back,’" Keenan said. “New York Cares was among four other charities I presented to them, and the committee unanimously chose New York Cares.”