The Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County has been selected as the local coordinator of a federal program that recruits seniors as volunteers in their communities.
The agency is receiving $53,000 annually for three years through the federal grant to oversee the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, placing people to perform tasks such as office duties, advocacy, or helping seniors with healthcare issues.
“We will now serve Middlesex County as the clearinghouse for volunteers 55 and over to create what the government calls volunteer stations for foundations, churches, synagogues, nonprofits, and charitable organizations,” said JFS volunteer coordinator Phyllis Freed.
Freed said she is in the process of creating a data base of agencies and institutions needing volunteers.
RSVP is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency.
Volunteer stations already include the Iselin-based Arthritis Foundation and the New Brunswick office of SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program), which provides help and advice to Medicare beneficiaries.
Participants can also volunteer for the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, a federal program administered by JFS throughout the state.
“We also need volunteers for the Healthy Bones program, which is a state-run program usually at places like senior centers where seniors work with seniors on gentle exercise programs,” said Freed. There are three such programs in Middlesex County in East Brunswick, Highland Park, and Monroe.
RSVP volunteers are also needed for JFS initiatives, including its Friendly Visitor program for isolated seniors; Elderday Care Center providing socialization for frail seniors; refugee services/ESL to help new immigrants; and providing transportation to counseling, group sessions, and medical appointments for JFS clients.
One of the agency’s greatest volunteer needs is for its Kosher Meals-on-Wheels.
“We always need volunteers to deliver,” Freed said, “especially in the winter because we have snowbirds who aren’t around.”
Sara Ullman, who runs the program, said it now has about 100 volunteers who deliver weekly or every other week.
Lloyd Leventhal of Fords, a retired financial analyst, has been delivering meals for six years every Friday in Metuchen and Highland Park.
“I was looking for something to do, having already done a couple of other voluntary things,” said Leventhal, who also delivers meals for Woodbridge Township and packs food at a local church food pantry.
“It gives me something to do in the morning, and I feel I do a service for them.” he said.
Sandy Kowalsky of East Brunswick has been volunteering since retiring as director of transportation services for South Brunswick schools.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this but never had the time,” she said. “These are wonderful people who need help. Every one of us could be them one day and hopefully someone will care about us. Some have no family, some can’t drive, some have difficulty walking. No one expects to end up in a situation where we can’t do for ourselves.”
Kowalsky is also a volunteer at the Frost School in East Brunswick, working with young children in the reading program.
“I just love what I do because I feel I touch their lives,” she said.
Michael Wasserman of Highland Park began volunteering after retiring two years ago from computer and actuarial work for an insurance company.
“A friend of mine said they needed drivers so I took advantage of the opportunity and I’m very glad I did,” said Wasserman, also a board member at the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ and committee member for Congregation Ahavas Achim’s cemetery.
“I really recommend it to other people no matter what their previous work was,” said Wasserman, who delivers weekly in Edison. “When you have the responsibility of having someone else depend on you it keeps your mind off your own pains. It’s nice to put a smile on someone’s face. You make sure they’re okay and report any problems back to JFS. It gives you a chance to chat with someone who may not have any other conversation during the whole day.”