I have often grappled with the challenge of community involvement. This is an inherent conflict for me. I tend to be a pretty private person, while working and living in an environment that necessitates lots of engagement. In my positions as Director of non-profit organizations, I have frequently taken on community leadership positions, as they pertained to work. I have spearheaded large systemic community initiatives, represented community needs to legislators and engaged in neighborhood projects all with the goal of advancing the mission of making a difference.
In my private life, however, I prefer to take my grandkids to the pool, have dinner at home with my wife and a close friend, or sit alone and read a book. And while I am fine with this distinction, others have not been as understanding. I’ve often been asked why I didn’t attend the community picnic, go to a specific lecture, meeting, etc. The expectation of the community seemed to be that I should be more involved. But I was just not interested.
Then, my family experienced a significant trauma. Six months after giving birth to my granddaughter, my daughter got very sick. We struggled through multiple surgeries, serious infections, chronic pain, extended hospitalizations, either out of state or for months at a time. We were faced with caring for a baby, the emotional trauma my daughter was experiencing and increased financial demands.
That is when I truly learned about community involvement and discovered a community of support. Offers of child care, hospital visitation, prepared meals, emotional support, medical consultation just seemed to come from everywhere. It turns out that community involvement isn’t about attending events or participating in meetings; it is about relationships and caring and giving of yourself to your community. And in that moment, I realized that I was not only engaged with my community but I had been embraced by it.
Howard Olshansky is the Executive Director for Jewish Family Services. He has spent his entire career working in the non-profit arena, passionate about making a difference. Howard has been married to his wife, Karen, for 34 years and has two grown daughters, Sabrina and Jennifer. Ask him about his grandchildren, Adennia, 6 and Sora, 7 months to put an immediate smile on his face.