Referring to herself as an active person, Susan Wyman said she’s always had a busy schedule – retired or not. Now two years into her retirement, she has no plans to slow down once the pandemic allows her to return to her volunteer endeavors.
“I always say, I don’t do doing nothing well,” Wyman said. “That’s how I’ve been my whole life.”
Before the pandemic, Wyman was lending her skills at organizations like The Cleveland Chesed Center, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, the Kosher Food Pantry, The Gathering Place and NCJW/Cleveland. At the Chesed Center, she helped sort clothing donations. With her temple, she worked in the community kitchen preparing meals to freeze and give to people who have been hospitalized. While at home, her involvement with Fairmount Temple hasn’t wained, as she is also knitting squares to make into blankets for nursing home residents. For the Kosher Food Pantry, she volunteers every other week packing bags of groceries to give to residents in low-income housing, as well as helping with outdoor food giveaways. At The Gathering Place, she used to volunteer in the library before retirement, but now she helps organize their fundraisers.
“If someone needs something, they know where to find me,” Wyman said.
CJN: Why did you volunteer in retirement?
Wyman: Before I went to work, I was doing quite a bit of volunteering. I say I am more of a follower than a leader, and I admire people who put together these initiatives. It makes me feel good to be able to do something for someone else. I also think I am more of a giver than a taker. I do it because if someone is asking for help, I can do it. It just feels good to help others.
I was never super into direct service, as I am kind of shy. So, I’m not so comfortable going into a nursing home and helping out that way, but I like to do things that I know will eventually help someone.
CJN: Why did you select these organizations?
Wyman: I found the Chesed Center and the Kosher Food Pantry through the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s IMPACT! program. They had an open house, and I didn’t know what these groups were before hearing about them then. But, I knew I was looking for something and I didn’t want something that was going to be a day a week or time-constrained. I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t keep. So, these groups were kind of open-ended and the flexibility of it spoke to me.
Also, my husband and I have been in the restaurant business for a long time and we love food. So, I noticed through the community kitchen at the temple, the Chesed Center and the food pantry, I seem to be drawn to things with food.
CJN: What do you get out of these experiences?
Wyman: I always knew my whole life that work like this mattered. I moved to Cleveland when I married a Clevelander, and I didn’t know a lot of people when I came into the picture here. I think of one of the things that surprised me is that I really enjoyed meeting new people I never would’ve had any way of meeting. It helped me broaden my circle.
CJN: What are your goals as a volunteer?
Wyman: I just want to be able to continue doing this. And I feel very on edge not being able to do it at all (due to the pandemic). And of course, it’s the not knowing if and when I can get back to it. I don’t feel like I have a goal. I just feel that whenever I do volunteer, I feel good about it.
CJN: What does volunteering mean to you?
Wyman: Finding NCJW/Cleveland was a big thing for me since it led to an 18-year career. There, I learned computer skills – I didn’t go to school to study as a bookkeeper. I majored in English and my father was a CPA and I remember growing up helping him, but I didn’t have all the skills. NCJW taught me that.
But with the Chesed Center and the food pantry, which are more recent activities of mine, I didn’t even know they existed. So, I think just learning that programs like that are out there and the good work they do, that affected me greatly. We read in the Cleveland Jewish News about people doing good with their money, and that is not something I’m able to do. But giving back with your time and skill, that counts for something.
Knowing how much volunteering has affected her retirement, Wyman hopes others consider the opportunity too.
“I think it is very easy in retirement to sort of feel, not that you don’t have any value, but that it would be very easy to do nothing and sit on your laurels,” she said. “But volunteering makes me feel good about myself and I don’t always feel that way necessarily. It also makes me feel very appreciated because people let you know. That does make every day better, and a little bit nicer, brighter.”