Not even a full year into her retirement, Ronna Kaplan is finding many ways to keep herself involved.
With a varied schedule, Kaplan is dedicated to many organizations including her temple, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, National Council of Jewish Women, Suburban Symphony Orchestra and the American Music Therapy Association.
Having worked as a music therapist for children with developmental disabilities and as chair of the Center for Music Therapy for 15 years at The Music Settlement, Kaplan’s activities center around music and childhood education and outreach. At NCJW, she is involved inthe Reading Buddies program, where volunteers read with third graders at Warner Girls Leadership Academy. With her temple, she makes CHESED: Caring Community calls and participates in Greater Cleveland Congregations, and works with Project Act, a program assisting the homeless youth in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
At Suburban Symphony Orchestra, Kaplan has held volunteer positions from president to head of the steering committee, co-chair of the Young Soloists competition and now personnel manager. With the American Music Therapy Association, she is the volunteer associate editor of Music Therapy Perspectives, a publication produced by Oxford Academic.
Kaplan has also dedicated herself to making face masks during the pandemic. Some of the masks went to her family and others have gone to NCJW. The organization distributed the masks to Bellefaire JCB, Zelma George Homeless Shelter, Planned Parenthood and Cuyahoga County prisons. She is also making masks alongside a team at Project Act for homeless children when they return to school.
CJN: What inspired you to get involved in these organizations?
Kaplan: For Fairmount Temple, the activities were laid out and as a congregant, I’m aware of them. It was really easy because the activities were there for the taking and I just had to have time to commit to them. With NCJW, they have an overlapping similarity with my temple in terms of caring about social justice issues. So, a lot of the issues are the same – immigration reform, criminal justice reform, education and concerns about anti-Semitism. I also just have an ongoing interest in literacy and helping others reach their potential.
With Project Act, I found out about it through Wendy Jacobson, CHESED: Caring Community coordinator at Fairmount Temple. They asked me to be the chair of the project with CMSD and I said yes. There are eight of us and we were asked to make 200 masks for homeless children in grades kindergarten to fourth. They will distribute the masks to those kids. So, helping kids in CMSD and then on top of that helping homeless kids, it was an added layer of need and an added layer of social justice that spoke to me.
CJN: Why motivated you to help make masks?
Kaplan: I’ve been sewing for a long time. Sewing and knitting are some of my hobbies. So, it was an easy way to give back and something I could still do while in isolation as it were. I could do it on my own time. I have a sewing machine and it has served me very well. It’s a way I can keep volunteering while we are restricted in so many ways.
CJN: What have you learned while volunteering?
Kaplan: People are very appreciative, though it’s not a big surprise. But it is interesting to learn about who the other volunteers are. We don’t all have the same background, though some things in common. It’s not all people who are “seniors,” but everyone who is volunteering, they might do it for different reasons. The outcomes are what is important. I know for the masks that have been received, the feedback that we’ve gotten has been really positive. It’s amazing to be able to give back to a community that has given so much to my family.
CJN: Is volunteering something you learned at an early age?
Kaplan: It was genetic for me to be involved because that is what my parents were like. My mom was assistant head nurse at the old Montefiore, and I think that influenced my career choice in wanting to do a service profession. So, giving back was something I wanted to do.
CJN: What is the most challenging yet rewarding part of volunteering?
Kaplan: The most challenging part of my volunteer positions would probably be the associate editor role at Music Therapy Perspectives. I had a bit of a learning curve using the software, Scholar One. We have to learn the working of the system and one of the very exciting, as well as challenging aspects, is I was able to be the associate editor of all the articles related to music therapy ethics. It was challenging, interesting and very rewarding.
With many years ahead of her, Kaplan is looking forward to accomplishing many things in her retirement. Outside of volunteering, she is an adjunct professor at Cleveland State University.
“I work with music therapy students and I really like it,” she said. “I would love to keep doing it. They’re starting a master’s program in the fall and I hope to continue being involved in the education of new therapists.”
Kaplan also wants to continue taking Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning courses. She just finished a course on the writing of author Lisa Genova, who wrote “Still Alice.”
“She’s written five books, and I’ve read them all, and they are about different neurological disorders,” Kaplan said. “I’ve worked with everyone in pretty much all those conditions. It was a great experience so I do want to keep trying to take some classes that interest me.”