Volunteering is something Marsha Spitz has done for most of her life.
Whether it was when she was working part time at Shaker Heights Public Library or raising her kids, free time was dedicated to caring for herself and her community. When her mother began to display symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-1990s, that is where her love for the Alzheimer’s Association was born.
Vowing to support the organization since they were there for her during a very difficult period, Spitz finds herself wearing multiple hats when volunteering for the nonprofit. Some of her roles include serving on the board for over 10 years, chairing their fundraiser “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” and various annual dinners, and at one point serving as the vice president of development. After cycling off the board because it “was time for younger blood,” Spitz now lends her skills to the support side.
“I get a list of families who need our help and as a volunteer, I check in and see how they’re doing,” she explained. “It has been so hard because so many of our families’ loved ones are in facilities of some sort, and they have been shut out for months and months (due to the pandemic). The people I have spoken to are so grateful to hear from someone who understands what they are going through. It’s very fulfilling work for me.”
When she isn’t helping out at the Alzheimer’s Association, Spitz also spends time with Milestones Autism Resources. Her role there is less concrete, and she said she does whatever they need her to do, whether that is answering phones or stuffing envelopes.
“Whenever they need me on, I am available,” she said. “I believe very strongly in their work.”
CJN: What inspires you to stay committed to the causes with which you are involved?
Spitz: The reason I have stayed so long with the Alzheimer’s Association is that when I needed help, they were one million percent there for me – anything I needed, any questions I had or (for) emotional support. I always say this organization saved my emotional life when I was so desperate for help. And it is amazing how so many people still don’t know we are here to help families that are trying to navigate their horrible, endless journey of Alzheimer’s disease. So, I’m committed because it’s a payback to them – I owe it to them. And it gives me a lot of satisfaction to give back to them in any way.
CJN: What motivated you to volunteer in retirement?
Spitz: Well, I have a lot of time now, and kind of always did. The work I did at the library was very limited – but it’s just part of my life and gives me a sense of fulfillment. So, it’s giving back to me as I give to them. I never got tired of volunteering, and the thought of leaving it behind never crossed my mind. Every phone call is different since everyone has different issues. I laugh and cry with them. It’s just so impactful.
Alzheimer’s is what we call “the long goodbye.” I talk often with people about how unimaginable this can be. You lose your loved one when their personality goes, but their body is still there. You can see them and you recognize them, but it’s no longer them. And then you end up mourning them a second time once they physically pass.
CJN: How do you think volunteering has impacted your time in retirement?
Spitz: I can’t really speak to that because, in truth, my job wasn’t running my life. I loved doing it, but I never had to bring that home with me. My life was normal and it continues to be that way. I miss the work I did and my coworkers, but I was always able to fit volunteering in my life. My life pretty much stayed the same after retirement, there wasn’t much interruption. So, I do hope to do this work as long as I am able and they need me.
CJN: Do you have a volunteering memory that sticks out to you?
Spitz: I would say my fondest memory of this whole process has been the people I’ve worked with. I’ve worked as a volunteer with the most amazing set of people who are so dedicated and committed to the organization as I am. Early on, when I started in the 90s, our organization was filled with people who had experienced Alzheimer’s in their life. Everyone was on the same page, and we were all very dedicated. I’ve made some very important friends within the association. So, that is what I frequently think back on. We’ve done a lot of good work – raising money and awareness, and supporting our families. But it comes down to the wonderful people I have worked with, both volunteers and staff who are all working very hard to do the best they can to end this disease somehow, someway.
The future of her retirement? Spitz said she plans to get back to her activities – both volunteering and hobbies – as soon as she can, once the risks of the pandemic diminish.
“I’d like to be able to see friends face-to-face again and play a little bit of golf comfortably, and have whatever ‘normal’ was back,” she said. “I miss socializing with my lifelong friends. But, I don’t know what the future will be like. I’m just hoping we get a semblance of normal.”