Bonnie Marks has been retired for only 1½ years, but she hasn’t wasted any time getting involved with her community. Though she volunteered while employed, Marks now has the time to be involved with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Bellefaire JCB and True2You.
CJN: Tell me about your volunteering.
Marks: I come from a family where tikkun olam was taught from a very early age. In my 20s, my first real volunteering experience was being president of my local ORT group. From there on, I was on the board of the Jewish Family Service Association, the Mandel JCC and Park Synagogue.
I was always on boards until the Jewish Federation of Cleveland asked me to be the volunteer co-chair of their IMPACT program. IMPACT is a volunteering program for individuals over 50. As Jews and people who are involved in the Federation, the Federation is part of the community. It provides a lot of programming for the entire Cleveland community. We wanted to provide a variety of volunteer opportunities that were not only within the Jewish community but also the general community.
I have also served as Court Appointed Special Advocate through IMPACT. As a result, I have gotten involved in three programs: one is to mentor foster children through a Bellefaire JCB program; another is the True2You program and the EYEJ program through the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
True2You, which I am really excited about and also is through CMSD, is a program where eighth graders meet in a group with 10 to 12 peers and a mentor. It’s a lot of helping the students discover who they are and what they want to do. And then through that, helping them identify the high school that is best suited for them. EYEJ is based on the fact that these students don’t particularly have good relationships with the police or people of power. The focus of this is that there will be a lot of programs with people from the police who will talk with them about how barriers can be broken.
I’m also a facilitator for JFSA’s Know Abuse program. This program presents a play by teens for teens that focuses on teen dating violence, bullying and suicide. I facilitate discussions after the play.
CJN: Why did you decide volunteering was a good way for you to spend your retirement?
Marks: I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I retired. I didn’t want to just sit on boards anymore because it was so passive. I’m so busy now and I love it. I think it is such an important and worthwhile thing to do with your time. Sure, (IMPACT) is a good way to connect individuals with people who are like them. Volunteering is social.
I always knew I was going to volunteer because I had done some form of it all my life. It wasn’t even something I had to consciously think about. I didn’t know if I would just do the more traditional stuff, but when IMPACT came along, it was the answers to my prayers. Volunteering and being part of the community in that regard is part of my DNA.
CJN: Why are youth outreach programs important to you?
Marks: I was a teacher way back when and mentoring young adults is one of the best ways to use those skills. I think that my interests, my compassion and my empathy are qualities that make it important for me to reach out and mentor. It is something that benefits me as much as it hopefully benefits the person that I’m with.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Marks: It was when my family and I went to the Welfare Fund Walk-a-Thon every year and raised money for the Federation’s Campaign for Jewish Needs. That was the most meaningful to me. I’m hoping to continue to make new memories with the programs I’m involved with now as well.
Looking toward the future of her retirement, Marks plans to enjoy her family as well as her other interests when she’s not volunteering.
“I love visiting my grandchildren who, sadly, don’t live in Cleveland,” she said. “It’s kind of trouping from coast to coast, and every summer we all go away as a family. I try during the course of the year to go see someone. I like to travel and I hope to continue doing that.”
Marks also noted she loves going to New York with her sister to see opera performances.
“I’m just hoping that I’m going to have the energy and the ability to do all these things for a really long time because I love it all,” she said.