Laurenda Messer has always been one to give back and try to make a difference in everything she does.
Whether it was in her career as a veterinarian or as a volunteer, Messer goes out of her way to connect with and assist others. With experience on the Women of Fairmount Temple’s board and performing mitzvahs with the group, to spending time at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Greater Cleveland Congregations, the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland, Providence House and NCJW/Cleveland, these are just a slice of what Messer has been doing since retiring in 2004.
CJN: What is your favorite activity and why?
Messer: It is working with the little vests (with the Women of Fairmount Temple at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple) and the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. At the food bank, they have a program called Produce to the People, which is every third Thursday of the month and the Thursday before long weekends. My husband, John, works on the computer registering people and I push grocery carts loaded with fresh produce that is all purchased locally. It supports a lot in the community. We walk the carts to people’s cars. It’s wonderful.
With the little vests, I can’t adequately describe them, but they are vests made out of fleece with a pocket on the back for epileptic children at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. The children have electrodes attached to their heads with wires that monitor their EKG lines and it has to be carted around. But, some grandmother came up with the idea to buy a sweatshirt, cut off the sleeve and put the machine in there. Now, it’s this whole thing and it’s so easy for them to use, and for technicians to monitor. They’re made of brightly-colored fleece of yellow, red and blue, and the pocket on the back is held on and closed by Velcro.
When you see these things, you melt. A lot of people want to work on it, but it requires being able to use a sewing machine. I go out and recruit people for the program, as well as our mitzvah days making alphabet books.
It’s a whole thing. It’s a gathering of all of this and putting together all of the moving parts. It’s an amazing thing. The children take them home because there is a constant need for them. It makes their stay a little less scary.
CJN: What was the impetus of volunteering in your retirement?
Messer: I don’t know, it just all gradually happened. I joined Fairmount Temple’s sisterhood and maybe that is how it all officially started. But, the little vests did not start through the sisterhood. This woman who did it first had become ill and she brought all the materials back to the hospital with her. A woman working there had an out of town visitor, and she told her the dilemma and what she needed to happen. Coincidentally, that visitor lived across the street from me. That is how I specifically got involved in that.
CJN: How do you relate your volunteering to your Jewish identity?
Messer: Most of my activities are through my temple and that is kind of what you do as a Jewish individual with tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Fairmount Temple hired a social worker and the goal of doing that was to be able to form group therapy groups. And she was really good at that, but she also, with the help of the president of the temple board, began what was called the community kitchen activities. As people needed these things, it needs to be delivered. It’s about helping others in the congregation.
That’s how my involvement is too – it’s about helping others that need it and doing what absolutely needs to be done to achieve that. It’s about community, and maybe that is part of it. For my husband and I, our children don’t live here. This is our entire community, within the temple and our religion. This is our family and you always help family.
CJN: Was community involvement something you grew up with?
Messer: My mother did that kind of stuff. So, she really set an example for our family. She collected for the American Red Cross and made every costume for our school plays. And when immigrants arrived into our neighborhood, she taught English as a second language. So, she and my father always did what was needed. They were complete community participants, so it was really something I saw growing up. I hadn’t thought about that until now, but that’s the way of life.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Messer: One of the most satisfying things I did was when I was working with Greater Cleveland Congregations getting people registered to vote. We went to a parking lot of one of the churches in that group and the food bank was giving food there. The pastor came out and introduced us, so we had this captive audience and they knew who we were and accepted that. And we got them all registered to vote too.
With the future of her retirement laid in front of her, Messer said she’s mostly looking to downsize her home. But when it comes to her volunteering life, she’s ready to do more of the same as well as inspire others to do the same.
“There always seems to be something to do,” she said. “All of the things I do are fulfilling. One of my friends says whenever she sees me coming, she runs because I must have something for them to do. I’m always searching for someone to help. I don’t search for new things, they just come to me and I’m happy to do that.”