Volunteer Voices

My grandmother always said, "when you give, you get." When I volunteer with Bookworms at John Eager Howard, I get to share my love of reading. I get smiles, laughs, and even hugs from the kindergartners. A 2003 study showed that children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. In just one hour per month, I get to expose the children I read with to more books, more words, and a wider world.

Octavia Shulman - Bookworms volunteer

My volunteering began when I was a young child in New Orleans, Louisiana. At five years of age I would get up early on Sunday morning and go with Daddy to the grocery to pick up bags of food and then to drive to various houses and leave the bags on the doorstep. No identification on the bags. It was something my parents Esther and Harry Koniarski just did. They would hear of families in need and knew what they had to do. The year was 1934/35 and times were bad.

As an adult I read for the Lighthouse for the Blind, reading the newspaper for The Blind and Print Handicapped on a morning radio show. I also read for the Louisiana State Library for the Blind. With the Council of Jewish Women we manned a senior center at a local (now defunct) department store, just as a gathering place for seniors to pass some afternoons with friends and music.

In grammar and high school I belonged to Daughters of Judea and then Hadassah and Council of Jewish Women and participated in many volunteer projects, leading youth groups, speaking at high schools to encourage the teens to start their own volunteering. I started knitting when I was expecting my first child in 1950. I knitted a sweater, and made the sleeves too long because I lost the instructions! I did not pick up knitting again until I got to Baltimore and heard about the project for Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Mitzvah Day. With the help of Helen Hoffman, the chairperson at the Atrium Village where we now reside, I got started knitting again. I love doing it knowing that someone might be a little warmer with the scarves and knit caps that we do.

My husband Sam and I are here because our home in Metairie, La. was flooded by Hurricane Katrina and since we had a son in D.C. and another who was relocating to Baltimore, we are here.

Helping others gives one such a feeling of usefulness–a reason that we have been put here not for ourselves alone.

Gert Levitan

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