Wanted: volunteers to lend a helping hand

Wanted: volunteers to lend a helping hand

Elizabeth hospital turns to Jewish community to help with patients

Lisa Liss, right, coordinates the work of volunteers like Roz Schwartzberg, who support the staff at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in meeting patients’ needs.
Lisa Liss, right, coordinates the work of volunteers like Roz Schwartzberg, who support the staff at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in meeting patients’ needs.

Roz Schwartzberg photographs newborn babies in the maternity ward at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. It’s a task she delights in, and one that she had no prior experience doing. Even in her late 80s, she strives to learn something new every day, and volunteering, she said, provides the chance to do that.

“I’ve always been someone who likes challenges, and this keeps me active in body and mind,” she told NJ Jewish News.

When the new mothers aren’t seeking her services, Schwartzberg helps patients in other wards, bringing blankets to those who need warming or cold water to the thirsty, or she simply sits and chats with someone in need of a little company.

“People ask me what I do and say they wouldn’t do it unless they were paid,” she said. “But they don’t understand what you get from giving of yourself like this. It’s so different from doing a job.”

Schwartzberg is one of the 250 volunteers who help out at the center, supporting the medical staff in their efforts to make the patients’ experience as comfortable and positive as possible. Lisa Liss, the director of volunteer services, coordinates the volunteer efforts. Many of those who offer their assistance are retired, she said, but there are also many younger people who step up, including a number of high school students.

One of Liss’ teen volunteers is a student at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth; she comes to play her guitar for the patients.

‘Something good’

Liss and Ariela Finkiel, the director of program planning and development at Trinitas’ cancer center, are looking for more volunteers from the Jewish community. Trinitas has 541 beds, and they could do with a lot more help. Liss and Finkiel — both Jewish themselves — said it’s particularly comforting for Jewish patients when they can turn to someone with whom they feel that added connection.

The institution — though unmistakably Catholic in its origins and ownership, from the cross on the roof down to the richly colored stained-glass windows showing biblical scenes — has made a point of reaching out to the Jewish community. Patients can get kosher meals and candles to light on Shabbat, and there are elevators that don’t require them to push buttons on Shabbat.

Liss said that volunteers currently at the hospital range in age from 14 to 91. They need to be healthy and strong enough to walk around the hospital, and they need to have the right mindset, providing attention and kindness without getting overly involved. The medical part — discussing symptoms and treatment, etc. — is left to the nurses and doctors, but, Liss said, the work of the medical staff is greatly enhanced by having those additional eyes and ears, picking up on who needs what.

Not everyone is suited to this kind of volunteering. Liss interviews every person who applies and — much as she welcomes their willingness to help — accepts only those she feels would be a good match. There is a background check, and they fill out a questionnaire detailing their interests, skills, and availability.

Liss said that while she looks for people who can communicate effectively and follow directions, no prior experience is required. Orientation and training are provided, so volunteers know how best to serve the patients, providing them with necessary information, resolving any concerns they have, and reporting back to their supervisor on what they’ve encountered and accomplished.

In return, Liss said, they get great appreciation. “We love our volunteers,” she said. “They are invited to two holiday parties, one in the winter and one in the spring; they get a lunch card for the cafeteria, free parking, and access to benefits professional staff members have — like use of the fitness center at the employee rate, and flu shots when they are offered.”

And, as Schwartzberg said, “You see something good and you know that you contributed to it. You know you’ve accomplished something that day.”

Those interested in volunteering at Trinitas can contact Lisa Liss at 908-994-5164 or lliss@trinitas.org.

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