When Hazel Brown retired in 2012 from her career as a human resources manager, she already had the people-centric skills that you would need when volunteering.
Using those skills, she found herself volunteering for community organizations. At her main endeavor, the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland chapter, she is on the Focus on Foster Care committee, where she helps design the committee’s self-esteem curriculum for teens aging out of foster care. She is also the new co-chair of the Stop Human Trafficking committee, and was on the initial forming committee for NCJW’s Building Bridges with Books program. The program selects an area school and supplies books to their libraries.
Additionally, Brown also served as a mentor for the Society for Human Resource Management, along with other roles throughout her career. Other organizations that she has lent her time to include her temple, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood in the community kitchen, and Magnolia Clubhouse, a mental health services organization.
Brown is also a practicing artist and was a fellow from 2014 to 2015 through the Cleveland Jewish Arts & Culture Lab. She has been featured at shows throughout the Cleveland area.
CJN: What made you choose these specific causes?
Brown: During my career, it was important to be engaged with people outside of my company. There were also personal driving forces, which led the way to what I was doing. For example, I had leukemia 20 years ago and that led me to get engaged with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I served on their board for a bit. With Magnolia Clubhouse, I have people in my life who have suffered from mental illness. In that area, you can never do enough. So, it is various personal things.
With NCJW, they provide such a spectrum of opportunities to give back to the community for women, children and families. There’s always a wide range of areas to get engaged in.
I’m very much about being hands-on and getting involved. So, there are different reasons – both personal and because they stimulate my interests and let me use my skills.
CJN: Why did you decide to volunteer in retirement?
Brown: I think the most important driver to that was the onus. During my illness, people came from all over to help me and my family. I had this sense that I could never do enough to give it back. Over time, I realized when I am doing things and helping others, it gives me a sense of gratification. There is a piece of Jewish values too.
CJN: What do you get out of these experiences?
Brown: It is the ability to shift around as my interests do and use my skills in different ways. My career allowed me to do a variety of things and I replicate that in my volunteerism. There is such a great need in our community to do many things and I can always find a way to contribute. It never gets boring. The organizations that I am affiliated with always allow me to contribute in multiple ways, so I never get stuck in a one-track mind.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Brown: I will say it is when Warner School Library at Warner Girls’ Leadership Academy opened through Building Bridges with Books. Going through all of the steps and to determine what the pilot program could look like and choosing the name, and then finding the right school, working with the staff and building that library – it was amazing. When it was finally completed, that showed me that we achieved this real, physical program for those students to utilize. It has now led to over a dozen schools or libraries.
Also, when I was on the board at Magnolia Clubhouse, I was co-chair of the building committee. We renovated two old buildings in University Circle that needed renovation badly. We worked with the construction team and architects. The people who are members of the clubhouse have mental illnesses, but are also active in working for the organization. They do jobs around the house and with each other throughout the day. So, seeing them vote to have it done and when it was finished, being in a brand new facility gave them some dignity. It was wonderful to see what could be accomplished and how that could help people in their daily lives.
CJN: Why should others volunteer?
Brown: I think one of the things people don’t always realize about volunteering is that there is a satisfaction to using your skills, abilities and interests and seeing others benefit from that. The gratification is real. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a superficial engagement either. It can be as simple or as complex as someone wants it to be. I think it is always rewarding though, whether it’s because you’re using your skills or because you’re seeing another person smile.
When asked about the future of her retirement, Brown offers her advice that retirement is just a series of reinventions and even an element of surprise.
“There is never an end, and retirement isn’t the right word for it,” she said. “It is ‘reinvention.’ With my art, I look forward to continuing to try new mediums and things. I look forward to engaging in volunteerism. I don’t know where it will all lead me, but there are opportunities to do many things. I look forward to the unknown.”