Volunteer Voices – Deborah Harburger & Sam Hopkins

Q: What has been your favorite volunteer experience? 

Deborah: Mitzvah Day – There are probably too many to count! One of the highlights was when we partnered to make a sensory-friendly room and headphones available to Mitzvah Day participants in 2019. It was the first time we offered this at Mitzvah Day and it helped to make our event more inclusive and welcoming. Another was chairing Mitzvah Week 2020 because it was incredible to see how the community came together to create meaningful volunteer experiences that engaged people in their homes and in small groups. We found a way to flip our traditional Mitzvah Day model into a week of opportunities and I see how some of those approaches continued even in 2022.

Sam: In 8th grade I volunteered at an MLK Day event where I had very deep conversations with non-Jewish residents of the neighborhood where my temple was located in Kansas City, Missouri. While sharing, I saw their eyes open to what Jewish history and community participation means, and they remarked on the experience later.

 

Q: How have you been involved with JVC? 

Deborah: I first became involved through volunteering with my family when my children were very little. For many years we have participated in Days of Service and Live with Purpose. I served on the JVC Board from 2017-2022. In 2021-2022, I served on the EngageCo Transition Committee as a JVC representative. In 2022, I joined the board of the new Macks Center for Jewish Connections. I chaired Mitzvah Day in 2019, Mitzvah Week in 2020, and now co-chaired MLK Day of Service in 2023.

Sam: I have participated in several Mitzvah Day and MLK Day events both at the JCCs and offsite with partner organizations. I even served as DJ for one Mitzvah Day!

 

Q: How have you found volunteering to be meaningful in your life? 

Deborah: Volunteering provides us with an opportunity to connect with our neighbors and communities. It also provides us with a way to connect with our own families by engaging in service together. I really love seeing how my children (now in middle and high school) have internalized some of the lessons of service and how their awareness of the challenges faced by their neighbors has increased their empathy as well as their critical thinking about challenges, causes, and solutions.

Sam: I have coached my sons in three sports, served as PTO board member, Cub Scout leader, and student organizer. For as long as I can remember, volunteering just seemed like the right thing to do because I was curious and passionate about affecting the world around me. Through volunteering, I learn from others about how they live their values, and I see the immediate benefits of being able to act to improve the world while gaining comfort that many share my concerns and passions when it comes to tikkun olam.

 

Q: What advice would you give to other volunteers? What would you tell someone who may be nervous to commit or is new to volunteering?

Deborah: You have something to contribute, whether this is your first time or your 100th. Take something from your personal or professional life and think about how you can contribute that skill, either directly or indirectly. You need to enter any volunteer experience with an open mind, a kind heart, and a willingness to listen and be responsive to what the need and request is–not what you want to provide or do.

Sam: If you care, act! There may be a cap for one event but your energy can always be utilized. Be honest about who you are and what you can do, and what you care about. You’ll always find a reassuring person, and JVC has an endless array of opportunities to engage. And don’t forget–every little bit helps (like picking up trash around the neighborhood) whether it’s informal or formal.

 

Q: What is your favorite hobby?

Deborah: Reading and hanging out with my kids, husband, and dog.

Sam: Making music and learning languages

 

Q: If you could meet any celebrity – dead or alive – who would it be?

Deborah: Chelsea Clinton.

Sam: My great-grandfather Sam Zimmerman. He was born in Lithuania and lost his whole family. He changed his name when he came to the US, fought in WW1, learned 7 languages, and I was born on his yahrtzeit. He also lost his family in the Holocaust despite trying to bring them to the US for years. I want him to know we haven’t forgotten them, and that I learned Yiddish to honor their memory.

 

Q: What would your last meal be?

Deborah: Tacos

Sam: Not the most kosher meal, but a platter from Gates BBQ in Kansas City. Pickles and strawberry soda must be included.

 

Q: What question do you have for our next Volunteer of the Month?

Deborah: What is your favorite time of day?

Sam: What do you think is the best way for individual volunteers to become volunteer group leaders

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