IHN: A Call to Action Reflections of a New Volunteer

Posted on January 5, 2017 by Shelley Drozd

I was nervous. After all, I had never done this before. Hoping to make a good first impression, I wanted everything to be just right: the menu, the setting, and especially the conversation. Having never met the people with whom I was about to spend the next few hours, I worried about the conversations the most. (I needn’t have worried.)

So began my first time covering the dinner shift for the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) at Temple Beth-El. We were housing three families that week, so I felt grateful to be sharing hosting duties with an experienced volunteer. Together, we set up the buffet table, made small talk with the guests, and tended the children while their parents took some respite time for themselves.

Two-and-a-half hours flew by before the next volunteer arrived for her evening shift. Heartened by the experience, I resolved to continue.

I’ve volunteered twice since then. Each time, I’ve learned more about how to support and engage with our guests—from bringing their favorite foods for dinner to finding the books the children most love. I learn their names, and they ask mine. We eat dinner together. They ask questions about Judaism.

Sometimes the adults open up about lives and aspirations derailed by homelessness. It’s a privilege to hear these stories—they offer profound occasions to listen, encourage and hope. Our guests often express thanks for the “great blessing” of IHN in their lives. We part company with hugs and well wishes for the future.

The more I volunteered, the more my confidence grew. Even so, I knew there was still much more to learn about being an IHN host congregation, so I signed up eagerly for training on Mitzvah Day.

Karen Donohue and Leigh Freeman conducted the November 6 training. Karen is the director of volunteer services for the entire IHN program of Somerset County. (That’s her day job.) Leigh serves as the IHN coordinator for TBE, a job she manages to do around her full-time career as a constituent and legislative aide for Sen. Linda Greenstein, 14th Legislative District. (Leigh’s the one sending emails time-stamped 11:30 p.m.)

These two women of valor clearly worked hard to assemble a comprehensive, insightful session as professional as any training I’d taken in my years of corporate life. I highly recommend the training to every IHN volunteer, whether you’re a rookie, a veteran, or maybe someone who’s just curious about the program. I guarantee you’ll leave feeling energized, affirmed and empowered.

Yet—as I hope my experience shows—you don’t need training to start volunteering. All you need is a desire to spend a few hours performing g’milut chasadim (acts of kindness) by providing hachnasat orchim (hospitality to strangers).

IHN calls us to action. Our faith calls us to respond. The need is great and there are many mitzvot to do.

To learn more about upcoming volunteer opportunities at TBE, contact IHN coordinator Leigh Freeman. You can email her at dancer.leighfreeman@att.net, or call or text her at (908) 391-1397. Full training packets are also available inthe TBE lobby or from Leigh, who would love to hear from you!

Shelley Drozd

Originally published in the January-February 2017 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives