After retiring from a varied career in 2016, Joan Shall decided her retirement life should be just as varied.
Using her newfound free time to give back, Shall gives most of her time to the National Council for Jewish Women/Cleveland and her synagogue, Park Synagogue. In years past, she has also volunteered with Milestones Autism Resources to help coordinate its annual conference in the media department.
With NCJW/Cleveland as her main endeavor, Shall co-chairs Operation Warm Up with Eva Hurst.
“Our mission is to collaborate with other organizations to gather and sort as many good-quality coats, boots and other warm winter items to be given out at the event,” she said. “It is an annual project we run in the Jewish community every year. But due to the pandemic, we couldn’t do it this year. So, we got a grant and were able to deliver new items.”
She also helps with HandsOn at BVU, which engages businesses, nonprofits and the community to work together to strengthen Northeast Ohio, according to the group’s website. There, she volunteers through NCJW to help coordinate the Homeless Stand Down, a one-day event providing access to resources for individuals and families facing poverty and homelessness. Due to the pandemic, the January event won’t be held in person. But, Shall said the event pivoted and is putting together care packages to be distributed to those experiencing homelessness.
She also is involved with Building Bridges with Books at NCJW, a project to physically rebuild library collections, catalogs and shelves of school libraries. Shall also likes to do small literacy-related projects with her grandchildren, who live nearby.
CJN: Why did you choose those specific endeavors?
Shall: With NCJW, I have friends who have always been involved. When I was working, I had no time for things like this and always wanted to be involved. Once I was retired, I took stock of the things I care about. I fell into Operation Warm Up, but the literacy activities were near and dear to my heart. Being an avid reader and reading to my kids and grandchildren, that was a natural fit for me.
I was also asked to co-chair Operation Warm Up with Eva Hurst. We were already friends, but have grown closer since doing this together. She was instrumental in finding the groups we support with that program. We’ve been very lucky to still do that great work and the satisfaction of getting this stuff to people in need is tremendous. The look on their faces when they’re presented with something like new boots touches the soul.
CJN: How has volunteering impacted your retirement?
Shall: Retirement was bittersweet for me because I had worked hard to help build the surgical practice I was at and for it to close, there was a really deep sense of loss for something I had built and worked hard for. There was a big void, and I moved to Atlanta with a positive attitude, but realized how fortunate we are as Clevelanders to have our Jewish community. It doesn’t exist anywhere else the way it does here. Cleveland is a unique place for a lot of reasons – like the ethnic enclaves, neighborhoods and the strong Jewish Federation. When I came back, I was even more committed to giving back to my community. I recognized once I left how rich it is and that I really wanted to help sustain that. So, when I came back and was offered involvement at Operation Warm Up, I didn’t hesitate.
CJN: What is your favorite part about volunteering?
Shall: What is most satisfying for me is the anonymous work with an anonymous recipient. Though it is great to see the expression on someone’s face, knowing these folks can retain some dignity during a really tough time is most gratifying. We logged a lot of hours this year packing, sorting, counting and shopping on a budget. We made sure that we were paying the lowest price possible but still getting high-quality items. There are a lot of people that still have a home, but continue to live in poverty. Those are the kind of people that won’t go to Homeless Stand Down, and we uncovered a lot of that this year. So, we were still able to get to those who are usually missed.
CJN: Do you feel like you’re making a difference?
Shall: I do feel like I am. It is a small part, but it takes a lot of small grassroots efforts to move the needle. We saw that this year in terms of getting out the vote, standing up for democracy, Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights. But, I do feel like our little bit of contribution to the silent community has done good. It has warmed my heart and given me a purpose. For a woman who has worked her entire life and had a long, satisfying career, it wasn’t the same as this. It is satisfying on a whole other level. Though I’ve always been involved, my kids and grandchildren can see what I’m doing too. I’ve always been a firm believer in leading by example.
Looking to the future of her retirement, Shall said she wouldn’t mind finding a part-time position to give her more human interaction. But when it comes to her free time, she wants to travel more internationally.
“I had older parents that kept putting off those trips and life had other plans for them, and they never achieved those dreams,” she explained. “So, while I’m still physically active, I want to be out as much as I can. I adore the ocean, sailing and snorkeling. I want to do more of those things in locations I’ve never been to.”