The cherry blossoms were blooming again on the Pleasantville campus and it could mean only one thing: it was time for JCCA’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. The PCS dining hall had been outfitted with balloons, a tasty buffet, and at each seat was a booklet of letters and drawings from residents expressing their gratitude for the volunteers. As guests  streamed in it was instantly clear that this was a tight-knit community––a room full of friends.

SVP of Campus Services Trevor John kicked off the program and got right to the point. “You complete the therapeutic process,” he said, addressing the volunteers. “Your reliable and consistent presence is a game changer for our youth.” Director of Volunteers and the evening’s emcee Sandi Rosenthal shouted out the cake bakers, the tutors, the pet handlers, lunch bunchers, and mentors who add so much to the life of the campus. Not to mention the groups from high schools, businesses, churches, and temples who regularly come out to serve and connect. “You found the time in your busy lives to come,” she noted, “and after you came, you stayed.”

JCCA CEO Ron Richter took the stage next and underlined the message. “I want to make something clear at the outset,” he said. “Our volunteer program isn’t something extra, it’s something integral. It’s not dessert, it’s part of the main course. It reinforces everything we do in our therapeutic services: stabilization, socialization, building coping skills, and finding the motivation to do the hard work of moving toward a better tomorrow. You set JCCA apart from other residential treatment centers, which I know for a fact are not blessed with such a passionate and engaged community.”  Richter also praised the success of recent volunteer-driven initiatives, particularly the new dance studio and the ongoing 200th anniversary Capital Campaign.

The spotlight then shifted to the residents themselves.  Alyssa serenaded the crowd with a heartfelt rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Talking to the Moon” and a number of young people read personal essays about the impact volunteers had made on their lives.  Jacob, age 13, spoke of the simple joys of going bowling or out to a diner with the Schildrkraut family. “I love you guys,” he said, “and in the future when I’m gone, living with my family, I will always think about you.” Another resident  choked back her feelings to note that her bond with JCCA volunteers had begun to erode her previous belief that no one cares.

Next it was the volunteers’ turn to take the stage. Alisa Gershman described the eccentric tasks that devoted volunteers sometimes found themselves charged with: tracking down specific Christmas gift like a discontinued WWE figurine or a fleece Beyonce blanket, or finding a pumpkin pie out of season because a resident wanted it for their birthday. Alisa’s son Josh explained that the job of a volunteer is a good one: simply show up and have fun. “Merely wanting to be there conveys to the residents that they are worthy of attention and respect,” he explained.

As the lovely evening wound down, Rosenthal closed with a quote from author Loretta Girzaitis that underlined the spirit of the event: “If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a kind word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.”