Roni Wallace doesn’t sit on the sidelines. Since she was a young girl, she always was signing up for clubs and organizations, a habit that led her to become involved in ORT, where she worked for more than 30 years until retiring at the end of 2016.
“I just really always believed in giving back to the community,” the Beachwood resident said. “I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and it’s that wanting to give back to the community – at the risk of sounding cliché – to make a difference.”
Wallace moved back to Cleveland at the end of 1977 and wanted to connect with others in the community. After attending a meeting of Women’s American ORT with her neighbor, she quickly began volunteering, five years later she started working at the organization and later became the director of ORT Ohio.
Volunteering runs in her family. She saw the value of it when her mother volunteered with her sisterhood and synagogue even though she had little free time. To Wallace, she said it’s about being a good citizen as well as a member of the community.
Now on the board of directors, she sees firsthand the impact ORT makes in schools through Argentina and Israel with technology training. ORT introduced computers in the classroom in the late 1990s through a partnership with the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland. The initiative led to the development of technology education through the local day schools.
“There’s a real need and an ability to fill the need and it’s a matter of stepping forward,” Wallace said. “In my case, providing leadership and direction to raise the money that needs to be done to make these things happen. It’s just responding to a real need and not waiting for somebody else.”
There were always tests through Wallace’s career, namely the finite pool of leaders and funds in the community.
“Everybody is doing the same thing with the same people, so there’s always a challenge,” she said.
She encourages people to get involved early in life to find their spot in the community even if it means finding a few hours a month to engage in their community. If they find they want to add more time to that cause, then they find a cause that speaks to them and they should build off of it.
“I understand that young adults in their late 20s and 30s are building their careers and building families, so their time may be more limited but it’s so important for them to find something,” she said.
ORT always will hold a special place in her heart, but now in retirement, Wallace said she wants to get involved in other organizations she thinks are doing incredible work like Cleveland Food Bank and Cleveland’s Kids Book Bank.
“I feel good about what I’ve accomplished at this point and the next chapter is really left to be written,” she said.
– Alyssa Schmitt