By Karen Singer
Anticipating turning 50 and dropping my youngest at college, all in the same week, got my head swirling about 16 months in advance of the actual reality. All I could think about was this–what was this almost 49-year-old woman to do?
I did what I know how to do best—I talked about my mixed emotions with friends and decided that I needed some help to plan the next phase of my life. A close friend reminded me not to ask, “How am I going to achieve this challenge?” rather “who can help me achieve this challenge?”
Those who know me might share that I am passionate about most everything; I truly utter “awesome” and “fantastic” about most everything. I share life with a loving husband, and we are so proud of our two children. I have a rewarding professional career and have always coupled my professional commitments with civic involvement, serving on a variety of wonderful Boards and typically, focusing on their fundraising efforts. However, it still seemed time for a change.
Through my networking, it became obvious that I was not alone in this challenge. To answer “who can help?,” I learned that The Associated developed “Chapter Two,” a nine-month program intended to help women ignite their next passion (whether due to becoming empty-nesters, retiring or just wanting to make a change). In September 2013, a year before my anticipated milestone events, I attended my first Chapter Two meeting. While the 24 women’s backgrounds varied, we shared a common goal: a desire to ignite our next passion.
Then, in the blustery cold of February 2014, I found my next passion. With fellow Chapter Two participant, Susan Manekin, we organized a “Princess Party” in collaboration with Giving Hearts, a teen program coordinated through the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), the hands-on volunteer branch of The Associated. The “princesses” were invited from the Jewish Caring Network and The Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital.
On the surface, the party resulted in painted faces, cereal necklaces, lots of frilly pink dresses and hugs for all. Yet, beneath the surface, there was some magic –- one grandmother battling a terminal disease thanked us effusively as the party enabled her to create lasting happy memories with her granddaughter. We would not have known of her dire circumstances from the smiles on their faces. As I reflected on how much pleasure I had planning the event with the teens and rolling around on the floor playing with the limb-lengthening patient and her siblings, I knew that I could fill my anticipated void with more hands-on volunteer activities.
In a blink of an eye, I graduated from Chapter Two and was honored to join the Board of JVC, whose mission is to foster a culture of service and engage volunteers to meet vital community needs. What a great next step in my journey! I was then invited to co-chair JVC’s Adult Volunteer Engagement Committee with Susan Manekin, with the goal of creating easy, accessible and recurring volunteer opportunities for adults, whether for two hours per month or twice a week.
As my personal journey was taking shape, my anticipated milestone birthday and college-drop off were also approaching quickly. As someone who loves to plan a good party, I needed to listen to the voices in my head which were telling me to continue the passion that had been ignited. During a JVC planning meeting, I mentioned to Erica Bloom, assistant director at JVC, that I could use her help to plan a hands-on volunteer birthday party to celebrate with my friends. An hour later, as I hurried out of our meeting to get to work, Erica asked me what activities I like doing most, as my passion would be contagious.
My 40 minute drive to work was all it took to conceive of “Something Good” – a weekend hands-on volunteer initiative was born. I love combining friends from different aspects of my life; l love organizing details; I love learning about organizations which could use a little extra help. PLUS, my schedule had some weekend openings!
I called Erica to share my idea and she translated my energy into JVC parlance. By launching “Something Good,” I was creating a “Volun-team,” a group of committed individuals to do “something good” on a monthly basis. I would be the leader, with the participants becoming the team!
My milestone birthday arrived, college drop-off came and my focus on launching “Something Good” filled that special spot. In September, nearly 40 friends gathered at a Girl Scouts’ camp in Howard County to mulch, remove debris from a building to be demolished and weed an area for native plants species. On October 16, “Something Good” participants gathered for “Blankets and Bagels” at my home to create 28 polar fleece blankets to comfort the patients of Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Upcoming “Something Good” activities include preparing food and serving the homeless, making a community mosaic and assisting the elderly in getting their homes ready for the spring! JVC is my “go to” resource for additional volunteer ideas, and I thank them for supporting “Something Good.”
When you find yourself on a similar journey, remember to ask “who can help?” and know that a simple call to JVC can match you with an opportunity to enrich your life while enriching the lives of others. If you would like to join the “Something Good” Volun-team, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.