Two hundred volunteers, families and Cottage Schools residents recently attended the heartwarming annual Volunteer Dinner at JCCA’s Westchester Campus. According to Phina Geiger, Director of Volunteers, “This is always a great event. The children really appreciate what our volunteers do for them and I find it often brings tears to my eyes. This evening was just as moving as our previous dinners honoring our wonderful volunteers.”

The four residential programs of The Cottage Schools—Edenwald Center, Gateways, Pleasantville Cottage School and Pleasantville START— serve more than 360 abused and neglected boys and girls (ages 7–21). These children live in 20 cottages on JCCA’s 150-acre campus in Pleasantville, where they receive the caring safety, structure and treatment so that they can be reunited with their families or, when necessary, placed with new, loving families.

Our extraordinary 650 volunteers offer warm, positive, individualized attention to children who have been severely traumatized, and this interaction makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our young residents. Through holiday parties, enriching outings, generous gifts and their commitment of time and a sympathetic ear, these dedicated men and women bring hope for the future to our youth. JCCA’s Annual Volunteer Dinner gives our young residents the opportunity to thank and celebrate these wonderful men and women who have so generously donated their time and friendship.

According to Stephanie Spiegel, JCCA Trustee and longtime volunteer, who spoke at the event, “Sometimes when I look at a particular child, my heart gets very heavy. But then the volunteers get busy with a craft or game, and the room comes to life. Laughter and excitement soon fill the space. And I see these children just being children, like my own, forgetting why they are here. These simple moments of normalcy bring them incredible happiness, and a chance to see that there is a better life out there. The volunteers in this room are an endless army of caring, dedicated and passionate individuals who show up, and keep showing up, and, yes, change lives.”

Another longtime volunteer, Rachel Rader, recently wrote, “I have gained so much from my volunteer experience. I saw how interacting with the children on campus taught my own kids so much about perseverance, fortitude, overcoming obstacles, and, perhaps most importantly, about trust. And through small gestures, I have been able to make meaningful connections with the boys and girls in my cottages. Whether we are decorating holiday cookies, celebrating a birthday or engaging in a fiercely competitive game of bingo, I feel fortunate that I can help to create a moment of normalcy in the often tumultuous and unpredictable of their lives.”

The children and teens respond to this outpouring of support. They wrote letters to their volunteers. Here is what some of them said about what their volunteers mean to them.

“You are my sun in the morning and my moon at night. You are the mother I never had. When I get discouraged, I will always remember you. You love me unconditionally for who I am. And I love you.”

“Volunteers mean hope. They mean a chance of a better future. They also mean that there is still someone there and I am not alone.”

“It brings joy to our hearts to know that someone cares. It’s not about the gifts, food and things that you bring. It’s about knowing that someone is there for me.”

“…volunteers mean the world to me. They mean someone will always care. They mean I am not alone. A volunteer means hope.”

“My heart was half way empty and you filled the other half. I care about you a lot and thank you for everything you did for me.”