They say all good things come in pairs. That applies to Beth and Howard Simon, especially with their long grocery list of volunteer endeavors.
With a shared love of the great outdoors, the couple volunteers at the Holden Arboretum and Botanical Garden leading tours and being school guides, as well as with the Cleveland Metroparks Youth Outdoors program.
Individually, Beth Simon gives tours at Severance Hall and helps with literacy endeavors for the National Council of Jewish Women’s Cleveland chapter. She also takes courses at Case Western Reserve University’s Siegal Lifelong Learning program and Baldwin Wallace University.
Howard Simon is a site steward at Acacia Reservation and a trail ambassador. For many years, he has also volunteered with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland annual campaign’s phone-a-thon. In the past, he has been a board member with the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern advisory committee, as well as lent his skills to CWRU’s medical school.
CJN: Why were these activities right for you?
Beth: For me, I had an illiterate grandmother, so she never learned to read or write in any language. My mother would be on the phone with her daily because anything she got in the mail was a mystery to her. I always loved to read and I could never imagine what it was like to live daily without being able to decipher things. So, I knew NCJW offered several volunteer opportunities, and many of them center around literacy and the importance of reading.
With the arboretum, garden and Severance Hall, while I was in college, I didn’t have time to do anything else. I always loved being outdoors, so when I retired, it gave me an opportunity. The joy of being a school guide is you get to interact with young people and the field trip is the culmination of what they’ve learned in class. At Severance Hall, I’ve always loved architecture and music and Severance Hall is a jewel of Cleveland.
Howard: Each one is a story. The first group I got involved in was Bellefaire JCB. I did the group home program and eventually became president of it. That was how I got involved in volunteering. It was gratifying to help out children in need. When I retired, my wife and I had been members of the Holden Arboretum for many years. What appealed to me was their school program. I got trained as a volunteer school guide very soon after I retired. And I loved it – working with children and being with children. They’re so much more enthusiastic than adults. I was learning a tremendous amount about the natural world and that led to a lot of other things I started to do.
CJN: How has volunteering impacted your life?
Beth: It has enriched it immeasurably. (Two grandchildren) are in college and another lives in New Jersey, so I love being with youngsters. It’s a joy. This way, I still get to be with youngsters and I still am learning. Whenever you’re teaching, someone always asks a question that gets you thinking.
Howard: This has just been part of my life and has been a wonderful addition. I don’t know what I would be doing without being involved in these groups. It allows you to be with young people and makes you younger. It’s hard to express how much richer my life is because of the volunteering I do.
CJN: What have you learned while volunteering?
Beth: Oh heavens, there is so much I have learned. There have been off-site tours that you give for the arboretum and I didn’t know any of it, like the geology of Little Mountain (or) taking the kids into the woods and the relationship between plants and animals. It’s so complicated and fascinating.
Howard: This whole business of the natural world and getting to know the natural world much more intimately. My involvement in teaching children things I didn’t know 20 years ago – I’ve learned so much.
CJN: Why should others consider volunteering?
Beth: Retirement is a unique time in your life that you can give back in ways you might not have been able to. When you’re raising a family and trying to help out an older generation, you don’t have the time or emotional energy. I think volunteering and learning in such a broad field, you need the time. I don’t think people realize the amount of emotional energy it takes to be an active learner.
Howard: It makes you feel so good to be able to impact other people positively. You should volunteer because the value is greater than the value you are giving.
As the future of many organizations is uncertain, both Beth and Howard Lplan to be involved as long as they can.
“I’m very concerned about the future,” Beth said. “So many of these wonderful cultural organizations that we’ve enjoyed for so many years, I hope the community continues to support them. Cleveland is an extremely philanthropic community.”
Howard added, “I think the volunteer work that I’m doing now has made me so happy that I will continue doing what I can as I am able. If something else comes along that catches my eye, I wouldn’t hesitate to try something new.”