On the gorgeous spring evening of May 11th, JCCA volunteers, staff, and residents arrived on the lawn of the Edenwald Administration Building to find a spacious canopy erected on the grass and barbeque smoke wafting from the grill. The scene had the look and the excited energy of a wedding. In fact, it was JCCA’s first Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in three years, an overdue chance to gather again as a community and celebrate the incredible contributions of volunteers during an exceptionally challenging time.
Senior Vice President Trevor John took the stage first. “Your long-term efforts make your daily successes look easy,” he told the assembled volunteers. “We know that they are not.” Following John, Sandi Rosenthal, Director of Volunteers, reflected on the impressive engagement and adaptability of volunteers given the shifting logistical challenges of the pandemic: “You were patient when I said you couldn’t come and you cheered when I said you could.” Rosenthal expressed gratitude and relief at the broad range of volunteer efforts that are now fully back up and running: lunch bunches, individual mentoring, academic tutoring, teen and tween groups, pet handlers, cake deliveries for resident birthdays.
CEO Ron Richter then took the lectern, reminding all of JCCA’s incredible fortune in having a roster of over 800 active volunteers, ranging in age from children to seniors. Few if any organizations in child welfare can count on such a robust and dedicated community, Richter assured. “Our volunteers show our residents something that even our amazing staff can’t,” he continued. “Namely, that there are people in this world who care, who will show up repeatedly with their love and energy. Not because it’s their job, not because the people in need are their relatives or longtime friends. They show up just because they care, because they are in touch with the exceptional human capacity for generosity.”
In addition to the enormous impact they make in the lives of residents, Richter added, volunteers also play an invaluable role in sustaining the resources and budget necessary for JCCA’s vital and path-breaking work. Volunteers have organized the A Tree Grows in Pleasantville fundraiser for the last 16 years running, for example, and are currently organizing a walk-a-thon to renovate the PCS recreation building. Additionally, the volunteer community has continued to support the Capital Campaign aimed at transforming and modernizing the entire Pleasantville campus.
Richter was followed by the highlight of the night: a performance by the JCCA Dance Team. The dancers brought the crowd to their feet. Their spirit, talent, and effort in rehearsing their routine were obvious to all.
Attendees then heard from a number of young people. Volunteer Olivia Stern, age 18, explained that her experiences on campus are indelibly etched in her memory. “These moments will stay with me for a lifetime,” she said. “The residents have shown me what true resilience looks like.” At first a bit shy in taking the stage, J., an Edenwald resident, reflected on the joy he finds in spending time with his mentor. D., another resident, said, “I think of my mentor as family. I wouldn’t trade my relationship with her for anything.”
The evening’s next speaker was Eric Roth. For Eric and wife Linda, volunteering at JCCA is a family affair. Each Friday, Roth and his mentee can be seen riding bikes around campus. When Eric and Linda’s son, Eli, came across an Instagram post about young people starting a Christmas gift drive, he thought to do the same for JCCA. “Our house becomes like Santa’s workshop,” his father remarked. “It’s the happiest time of our year.”
With the formal program over, attendees mingled in the mild dusk, playing jumbo Connect 4 and cornhole on the lawn, or enjoying a last watermelon lemonade in the waning light.