Whether it was in her career as an occupational therapist or through her community involvement pre- and post-retirement, Shellie Sedlak has always had an affinity for helping others.
Now 18 years into her retirement, Sedlak cycled off the board at Cleveland Public Theatre in October. She was a member since 2002 and would help develop its yearly Pandemonium, a performing arts showcase that directly benefits CPT. She also has a history of campaigning for WVIZ. She is a past president of Beth Israel-The West Temple in Cleveland, as well as “just about every other job on the board,” Sedlak told the Cleveland Jewish News.
Sedlak is on the board of the Everett Jewish Life Center at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y. The center has operated on the campus since the beginning of the 2009 summer season. She also just finished campaigning for Jenny Spencer, who retained her Cleveland City Council Ward 15 seat in the Nov. 2 general election. Spencer was originally appointed to the seat in November 2020 when former councilman Matt Zone resigned to become the director of the Thriving Communities.
Sedlak also received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Work in 1993 for kick-starting the city of Lakewood’s and Lakewood Hospital’s recycling programs. She was also previously involved in the Keep Lakewood Beautiful organization, which was created in 1982 to promote civic involvement through public interest in the general improvement of Lakewood’s environment and plants trees, facilitates recycling projects and sponsor pocket gardens. She’s an environmentalist at heart.
CJN: Why are these volunteer activities important to you?
Sedlak: The Cleveland Public Theatre intrigued me because I read an article about slam poetry in The New York Times and then saw another piece that said CPT was holding slam poetry contests. I thought that was so intriguing. So, I went and decided I wanted to be part of it. That’s how that happened. As for Chautauqua Institution, it was the place to be for Jewish people and I wanted to be involved.
With Jenny Spencer, I used to be on the Detroit Shoreway board and Jenny was also on the board. Since then, I’ve watched her progress. I’ve donated and gone to her fundraisers. I just like her – and I always enjoyed coming across her in the community. She’s just a great person, and I decided to help her.
CJN: What led you to volunteer in your retirement? Was this something you always wanted to do?
Sedlak: I did this before retirement. After I retired, it just seemed like if you don’t do something, especially after I became disabled, you have no purpose. I felt like that. It is really whatever makes me feel like I am involved in the world. I just do it.
CJN: How can volunteering impact a community?
Sedlak: For example, when I first was introducing recycling into the community, people and organizations were hesitant. And then I went to Heinen’s and Giant Eagle and asked them to get people to bring bags and support a community project. They said they couldn’t. But now everyone is doing it. People are so much more aware, and when I used to talk about climate change, people would laugh at me. It’s kind of disappointing in my opinion. The global climate change is not withering away, it’s getting worse. It’s about continuing to try.
CJN: Does your Jewish identity play a role in what you do?
Sedlak: It does. Jewish people are very social action-oriented and that is an inherent trait within me. My mother was very kind, and both of my parents were really involved in volunteering in their own way. That showed me supporting your community was paramount. I had a feeling through her that she had a strong social action fabric and that was ingrained in me.
CJN: Why should others consider volunteering in their retirement?
Sedlak: In my opinion, unless you’re extremely talented, options other than volunteering are not as fulfilling in retirement. Volunteering is one way you know you can matter. Being part of doing good for other people is a win-win.
And in giving further advice to newly retired community members, Sedlak said they should look into their senior centers as a place to start.
“Whatever it is they like – if they had a parent who was in a nursing home, they can get involved there,” she said. “I would say whatever you’re comfortable with. There is always an opportunity there when you least expect it.”