Following her career as a hospital pharmacist, Sonya Shultz found she had a lot of extra time. Though she also volunteered while working, she never had as much time to give back to her community.
The Cleveland Heights resident started volunteering with various organizations and groups, including Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Menorah Park and her synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation.
She helped deliver meals from 1999 to 2016 with JFSA’s Meals on Wheels, but left that endeavor once it became “physically taxing.” For her synagogue, she helps organize events and hold kiddushes. With the Maltz Museum, she started as a docent when the museum opened in 2005 and still helps when she can.
Her main endeavor is volunteering at Menorah Park’s snack shop four days a week. Once a month, Shultz also lends a hand to the staff at The Greens in Lyndhurst, helping with its Shabbat programs.
CJN: Why did you choose to volunteer at these places?
Shultz: I like to be in the background instead of out front. I chose the Maltz Museum because I love history. It gives me great satisfaction to talk to people who come for a tour to tell them something about Cleveland or Judaism that they didn’t know. As for Menorah Park, if what I do makes somebody happier, it’s worth it. When I am at Menorah Park, so many people don’t have a family, but I’m gratified that so many of the residents’ families are there for them.
CJN: What have your learned from volunteering?
Shultz: It makes me satisfied. I’ve been blessed with almost perfect health. I’ve had some medical problems, but nothing that has made me incapacitated. I was fortunate to practice something I loved in my career and it gave me a source of income that many women of my age did not have.
I graduated in 1957 and my father was a pharmacist ahead of me. And actually, I think I became a volunteer because I inherited it. I was born during the depression and my parents always said there was someone less fortunate than you. Now, I see it because when I am at Menorah Park, I see people younger than me who are incapacitated. So, I say I’ve been blessed with health and ability. And I think since I never married, I am glad I can share my good fortune with other people.
CJN: How was volunteering demonstrated in your home growing up?
Shultz: I was born and grew up in Warren and it was a small community. The Jewish community was even smaller. Although we had a family business, my parents always found time to help at the synagogue or get involved helping promote some philanthropic idea. And, I feel that as long as I am physically able, I want to continue that legacy.
CJN: What is your favorite memory of volunteering at Menorah Park?
Shultz: There was a gentleman, not Jewish, who had a stroke. At the snack bar on Wednesdays, we serve pizza. Because this gentleman had a stroke, he couldn’t speak distinctly. So, I would go around the serving counter to talk to him in his wheelchair. He would tell me what he wanted and it was always the same thing: vegetable pizza with jalapeno on it. After a couple of times, he would come back and I’d remember the order and he would nod. I wasn’t sure if he had memory damage or not.
Once, Yom Kippur was coming and I told him we wouldn’t be open. So, I told him to do me a favor – eat for me because I wasn’t able to during the fast. I saw him a few days later and he told me he ate for me. That showed me that he knew what was going on and he remembered what I had told him. I was happy.
CJN: Why should other retirees choose to volunteer?
Shultz: It’s good for them. I highly recommend it because I’ve seen so many other retirees not get involved and I think it shortens, not so much their lifespan, but their enjoyment of life.
With a full schedule, Shultz said she sees herself just doing more of the same in the coming years.
“I feel that I am volunteering full time at the time because I am doing a minimum four to five days a week,” she said. “So, I think I’m going to continue to do that as long as I am physically able. I’ve made friends and I think I’ve made an impact on the lives of people, and that gives me great satisfaction for when I am no longer physically able to do this.”