Lending a Hand

By Jeffrey Page
The first thing I did on my first day of retirement was to drive to Edenville and have a celebratory breakfast (just me and The Times) at Country Dream, the great little restaurant just off County 1.

The second thing I did was call a couple of friends and ask them to keep me in mind for freelance writing and editing assignments.

Third, I called Jewish Family Service in Middletown and asked if they needed a volunteer. You should know that you don’t have to be Jewish to work for this organization, or to take advantage of its services. By way of background: I’d never signed up for volunteer work while I was commuting 450 miles a week to The Record in Hackensack. Now I had the time.

I spoke with Margie Faber at JFS and agreed to be a driver. I would have no set schedule. Instead, Margie would contact me several days ahead of time to see if I was available to drive someone to a doctor’s appointment.

The people needing rides might be too old to drive themselves safely, or without cars of their own. Some normally rely on a friend or relative but occasionally need a volunteer.

The first woman I drove turned out to be a former parishioner at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church in Jersey City. She was very impressed that I knew how to pronounce it. I told her that was because I used to cover the neighborhood for The Jersey Journal, a paper she’d read every day before moving to Orange County. Whenever I drove her for treatmwnt we talked about Jersey City and what I great town it was, and remains. I was devastated when she died about a year later; it was like a member of my family had passed.

Two of my more frequent riders are a retired Wall Street broker and his wife. He manages to ignore my question every time I ask about the quickest and safest way to get rich. “God, if I only knew,” he says.

I drive this couple to their dental appointments. When we’re heading back to the car, she usually calls him over and says, “A little kiss,” and he leans down to oblige.

There’s the Spanish speaking woman who let me know that she liked my pronunciation, and who handed me $5 for gas money that I returned to her. This encounter left me wondering: Do I turn down the $5 in the name of volunteerism? Or do I accept it in the name of helping someone maintain her dignity and self-respect? I think it’s the latter but I’m uncertain. I have to talk to Margie about that.

I drive a guy to his doctor. The patient tells me how much he hates the New York Giants. “Hate?” I say. “Hate,” he says. “How can you hate the local team that’s going to the Super Bowl?” I say. “They’re not the Jets,” he says. The doctor wants him to stop smoking. No way, he says.

It’s been said before. Volunteers often get as much out of their work as the people they assist. That’s the truth.

If I hadn’t signed up with Margie, I might never have met the fabulous 96-year old woman I take to the podiatrist and the eye doctor. Her children live far off. They are not well.

“I did what I could for them,” she says. “I wish I still could.” Then she changes the subject and tells me about all her years as a volunteer at a senior citizens facility in New Jersey. “I can’t complain. When I was in Jersey I helped stroke victims who couldn’t move so good anymore. You know what it’s like after a stroke?” she says. “I would get a container for them and pour their coffee. If they couldn’t do it themselves, I’d add some sugar for them.

“People need a hand sometimes,” she says.

Sound interesting? JFS (845-341-1173) is always looking for volunteers.



7 Responses to “Lending a Hand”

  1. Anita Manley Says:

    Jeff: loved your article. I too was wondering what I was going to do when I retired. After my Mom passed away in Florida and had no volunteer services to take her to the doctor or shopping, I contacted Jewish Family Service about helping our seniors in the Town of Newburgh and I am now the volunteer coordinator for my Town. Love this gig!!! I do the intakes for the clients and recommend them for services and assign the volunteers. It’s true, we get more out of it than what we put into it!!! Keep up the good work.
    Anita Manley

  2. JeffreyPage Says:

    Anita, From one volunteer to another: Thanks for your kind words. I suspect that with the economy the way it is, there’ll be more and more demand for volunteers in the next few years.


  3. LeeAgain Says:

    I’ve done a communion service every Sunday for some 12 years at a local nursing home. I don’t know how it happens, but I can be exhausted with a miserable headache sometimes when I drag myself there, and by the time I leave I’m feeling physically great and full of energy. Those folks do more for me than I’ve ever done for them.

  4. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    Wonderful and inspiring story. Thank you for your service. My Aunt Yolanda, almost 89, just had to stop driving. It’s hit her hard. Luckily, she has children to help her get around. You’re truly helping people stay stimulated and engaged.

  5. Jean Webster Says:

    Nice story, and so familiar.
    Don’t know if you recall, but John has been volunteering for the Independent Transportation Network, a driving organization in Portland, Me. since we moved here ten years ago. When he can, he likes to drive the same day each week, so he can see the same people. It has been an important part of his retirement. I know that seeing folks in their late 80’s and into their 90’s getting around – though they can’t drive – gives him (and me) hope for the future.
    Regards, Jean

  6. Shirley Gordon Says:

    Hi,Jeff, I read your heartwarming story of your experiences as a JFS volunteer with a smile on my lips thinking how Seymour, as first president of JFS would have loved reading it with me. He envisioned the scope of services you related. I have been a volunteer for Meals on Wheels since my retirement in 1987 and look forward to seeing “my clients” on my delivery day. It makes my day! Regards, Shirley

  7. Marcy Handler Says:

    Thank you all for your moving stories with a special thanks for the many hours of joy you give to those needing your assistance and the peace of mind you offer their families. If anyone is interested in volunteering with JFS, we hold a free one hour (and we mean only an hour) event we call “All in the Family” each month to give the community an opportunity to get to know us better. It’s a good look at the work we do and our vision for Orange County. Great way to see if you’d like to be involved with no strings. For the next date, call me at 341-1173 x307. Hope to see you!

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