For Steve Fox, being idle is not an option.
Even while working as a database administrator for the U.S. government, the Beachwood resident found time to volunteer – and even more so when settling into retirement eight years ago. Carried over from his working life, Fox continued to dedicate many volunteer hours to the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Association. Over the years, he had three matches and was even named Big Brother of the Year.
Fox also found time to tutor first graders in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in reading before that program was disbanded five years ago. Currently, he serves as a friendly visitor at Menorah Park and Montefiore and serves on the board of Milestones Autism Resources.
CJN: How did you get involved with your current activities?
Fox: My mother was a resident at Menorah Park, and after (her passing) I really couldn’t go in there anymore because it was too much for me. But that is how I got started at Montefiore, which is a great benefit for me and the people I volunteer with because I learn so much. I was doing that regularly until the virus hit and I miss it.
As for Milestones, it’s interesting. Before my mom passed away, I did a lot to help her. I ended up going to see someone about my feelings and had all of these tests done. And at the age of 60, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. I am not ashamed of it since it is who I am. I ended up telling Ilana Hoffer Skoff (executive director of Milestones Autism Resources) about it and ended up on the board with them.
CJN: How did you know volunteering was for you and what was your inspiration?
Fox: I’ve been volunteering my entire life. I’ve always had this belief of needing to give something back to society. I know it sounds very false, but it isn’t. For me to give back in different ways, I’ve learned more from my volunteering and get back so much positivity. And with JBBBSA, I just got to a certain age where I knew I could be a good mentor to someone else, but that they had to be younger than me. I have matched with three kids and one of them had special needs. I was matched with him for almost 20 years, and he’s in his 50s now.
CJN: What is your favorite part about volunteering?
Fox: The conversations I have with people, especially the residents at Montefiore. My wife ended up there after rehab following her hip replacement, and I could only visit her outside due to the pandemic. And one of the other people I visit with happened to be outside and called me over to say how much he missed me, wondering where I had been. He is 93, and we used to play checkers three or four times a week. I never won. Stories like that have a way of coming back to touch you.
CJN: What type of impact do you feel you’re making?
Fox: I have learned at the nursing home, for example, as I walk through, even the people I am not assigned to visit, I’ll say hello to a stranger. Sometimes, I could be the only person who says hello to them all day. They may be shocked, but sometimes we have a little conversation. And sometimes, I’ll also say hello to people in the park. Once in a while, we have a conversation and I point out things they might not know. A lot of the time, people give me this look like, “really?” But, those walks in the park have been my saving grace. Though it is not a volunteering activity itself, if you’re pointing out things to people you don’t know or going out of your way to say hello, it makes a difference. Even if it is small.
CJN: Why is volunteering a good match for you?
Fox: My wife and I are both in our 70s now, and the fact is our family is gone. For me, it’s a way to have a conversation with someone outside of my home. And I learn as much as I can with people I volunteer with. So, I think it’s the fact that I am still learning, even at 70. It is kind of a hard question to answer, but I think it is really about being born into a world where I can continue to learn and make a difference.
But the bottom line of volunteering, Fox said, is how much you realize these activities benefit you as a person.
“It is that simple,” he said. “When I was tutoring in the Cleveland schools, I thought this was totally outside of what I was comfortable with. But when the students came in, you could tell that they came to school early to get sometimes their only meal for the day or positive interaction. So, it feels monumental even if it is something small like that.”