For the four years Steve Friedman has been retired, he has been involved with a few organizations like the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Bellefaire JCB, CASA for Children and as a member of the finance committee at his synagogue, Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood.
Finding his footing at CASA for Children, Friedman moved onto getting involved with Bellefaire JCB’s Foster Youth Mentoring Program through the Federation’s IMPACT program. There, he mentors children in the custody of the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services.
“These children aren’t living with their natural families and are in various placements,” Friedman said. “It’s about making life more enjoyable for these kids and teens, and to be a friend to them.”
CJN: What inspired you to get involved with foster youth mentoring?
Friedman: My interest in that began when I first retired and became a volunteer with CASA, which is run by Children and Family Advocates of Cuyahoga County. I worked with kids who were in the temporary custody of the county but they remain with their families. The whole idea of it was family preservation, where the family had been accused of neglect or abuse, but they want to work hard to keep the family together.
So, my job at CASA, among others, was to help achieve family preservation and to have the county step aside. That got me interested in working with children in the custody of the department. Then, I read the IMPACT email about the mentoring program for kids who are at the other extreme, permanent custody.
CJN: Why is foster youth mentoring important?
Friedman: It’s important because it is an extension of the work I did in my career like when I was at the county jail, I was in charge of the mental health unit. We saw a lot of kids and young adults (there) who had been in foster care. When I ran FrontLine, it wasn’t unusual for a homeless young adult to have been in custody of the county. This is an extension of that work. But, I haven’t been involved with the juvenile court before so I wanted to see how that functioned.
And with that, there is a possibility to prevent those negative outcomes when the children get older. That was an interesting aspect for me. Can you prevent someone from winding up in jail or becoming homeless?
CJN: Why did you decide to volunteer throughout retirement?
Friedman: You’re faced with a lot of big decisions when you retire. How are you going to spend your time? What are you going to do? I have always been involved with public health and community agencies and I admire agencies that are devoted in trying to assist people who would otherwise not have access to services.
So, places like Bellefaire do extraordinary work and for me to be able to help them achieve that mission, it’s very gratifying. The field has always been very important to me, and I find it great to be able to continue that.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Friedman: I was in the first class of trainees for CASA and that was very gratifying. My first case was extraordinary and it was one of medical neglect. We had a lot of successes and we were able to terminate the case six months early. When the magistrate terminated the case, the mother and I just looked at each other and went in for a big hug. It was very gratifying to help them through a tough time.
CJN: Why should other retirees consider volunteering?
Friedman: I think it is a question of how you define yourself. To me, it was very important for me to remain engaged in community work. It is very important to recognize the challenge of delivering services to people who are poor and those who don’t typically have access to available services. There is a real importance to be able to address structural inequities in our society by doing volunteer work. And that is what animates me to reach out and offer to do something in the world beyond me.
When thinking about the future of his retirement, Friedman noted he’d like to travel more and visit with his children who live out of state. Additionally, he is optimistic and inquisitive.
“I’d also like to pay attention to my health,” Friedman said. “When you’re in your 60s, you’re not the same as how you are in your 70s. I’m curious to know what the 80s will look like. I’m looking forward to seeing what each decade will allow me to do.”