Cyndy Fellenbaum retired 11 years ago and jumped right into volunteering.
With a full schedule, she helps at organizations like the National Council for Jewish Women’s Cleveland Chapter, First Year Cleveland, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Hillcrest Hospital and Golden Treasures.
She also worked with a local representative to ban the sale of crib bumpers in Ohio, which can lead to infant suffocation, strangulation and entrapment. The ban went into effect in April 2017. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fellenbaum had also applied to work as a College Now mentor and is on the waiting list.
Two things Fellenbaum is most passionate about are women’s and children’s health. At NCJW/CLE, she heads the Threads of Love program that gives clothes and toiletries to sexual assault victims at Cleveland hospitals, helping them get discharged with some dignity. Fellenbaum was also the co-chair of NCJW’s women’s reproductive rights committee, which worked with Planned Parenthood to put 1,000 pairs of shoes on the Columbus Statehouse steps in 2015 as a protest supporting women’s rights. She also received NCJW/CLE’s 2019 Advocacy in Action Award.
With Hillcrest Hospital, she would hold babies born with drug addictions. At First Year Cleveland, that is where her work against crib bumpers originated.
With Golden Treasures, a golden retriever dog rescue, Fellenbaum interviews people who have sent in adoption applications to find the right match. Her family has adopted two dogs from the group.
CJN: What drew you to fight for women’s and children’s health initiatives?
Fellenbaum: My whole career focused on working with children, especially those with special needs. Also, Ohio has been historically horrendous for women’s reproductive rights and if I could help in any way, that is what brought me to that avenue. With Hillcrest Hospital, my friend was a social worker in that unit and she brought up that they needed people to cuddle the babies. The nurses in the NICU unit are angels but they don’t have the time to sit there for hours holding these babies. So, she suggested that and the hospital went with it. That is how it started for me.
With the clothing and toiletries kits, we’ve given over 1,000 kits. The clothes and supplies give victims their respect back. They don’t have those items because they’re all taken for DNA evidence, so we give them new clothes, underwear and supplies. We also have blankets for children who have been sexually assaulted.
CJN: What has been the biggest moment of your volunteering?
Fellenbaum: Out of all of my volunteering, the moment that was most meaningful to me was that I got to present a baby to a couple that was going to adopt him. This was a baby I held for many hours while it was withdrawing. I was adopted, and for me to be able to hand this baby over, it was so wonderful. I thought that someone had done this for my parents – handed me over. That was probably my most touching moment.
CJN: What have you learned?
Fellenbaum: When doing these things, you learn that there is so much need in the community. You start one thing and you can expand on it. That’s the best thing – to have an ongoing project, not just a one-time thing. With women’s reproductive justice, that is not going away. It’s just going to become more pervasive, so we have to work to reinstate those rights in our state. We have to keep writing our representatives and we can’t stop working to protect ourselves. Also, the people I have worked with, the like-minded women at NCJW – they are the most amazing women I have ever worked with. NCJW teaches you how to lobby and advocate in a very positive and consistent way, and that is important to me. Because of the strength the women and people I volunteer with have, I have faith in the long-game and that the world is going to be a better place.
CJN: Why are these causes important for the overall community?
Fellenbaum: It makes life better for people. It improves the lives of women and children everywhere. If you improve the lives of women and children, the whole community becomes better and the world becomes a better place.
CJN: How does your Jewish identity guide you in your activities?
Fellenbaum: Judaism is based on the idea of giving back. It is tzedakah – from the time I was little putting money in a blue box. I started volunteering when I was 14 years old. So, it was an important thing for my family to teach me to give back.
CJN: Was volunteering the route you wanted to take in retirement?
Fellenbaum: It was. I was teaching full-time, raising three sons and I was tutoring after school. I didn’t have time for these things. I always looked forward to the day I could after I finished teaching.
With over a decade of volunteering under her belt, Fellenbaum said she has learned so much about herself and the community. For those who are new retirees or just starting their volunteering journey, she had some advice.
“There are so many things out there to get involved in,” she said. “You can get involved in a short-term project, or something more long-term. You don’t have to look far – just get involved. You’ll love it.”