For Valentines’ Day, Ellen Portnoy gave the Jewish residents of Brookdale Senior Living a bag with a big heart on it. That bag was filled with Mickey Mouse valentines, a mini-puzzle, and a small Russell Stover candy box.
Ellen has a strong commitment to Jewish Family Services and to the Jewish community as a spiritual care volunteer.
Ellen learned about the opportunity when she spoke with Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, Jewish Community Chaplain based at JFS, while she was visiting a friend in a hospital.
“I mentioned that I would be interested in becoming a spiritual care volunteer,” said Ellen, who resides in Overland Park. “Rabbi Rudnick told me to contact him about enrolling in a preparation class.”
Spiritual care volunteers are an integral part of the Chaplaincy program and receive extensive training to help meet the spiritual needs of individuals in the healthcare and older adult communities.
Once Ellen completed the class, she was given a choice between volunteering at a hospital or at an elder care facility. She chose to volunteer at the latter.
“For me, it was about providing a community for people and letting them know that someone cared about them,” Ellen said.
When Ellen started volunteering at Brookdale Senior Living, she noticed that the residents needed Jewish content.
“They were craving a Jewish component,” she said.
Each Wednesday when Ellen visits Brookdale, she leads the residents in a conversation regarding the weekly Dvar Torah.
“I ask them: ‘How does it (the Dvar Torah) relate to you?’ ’What do you find interesting about the Dvar Torah?’,” Portnoy said. “Then, we go around and the residents talk about their week and what they have been up to.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Portnoy found a creative way to stay connected with the residents. She assembled gift packages for each of them.
“For Rosh Hashanah, I gave them apples and honey,” she said. “For Hanukkah, I gave them little gelt bags, little boxes of Hanukkah cookies, a dreidel, and a Hanukkah card.”
Ellen also gave them gift packages for other holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day.
“When I give the gift packages to them, they are excited,” she said. “It gives me joy and puts a smile on my face.”
Rabbi Rudnick shared his appreciation for Ellen’s work at Brookdale Senior Living.
“Ellen has helped turn some individual Jewish residents into a small Jewish community,” the rabbi said. “Her care for her people has led to their deepening connections to one another, to community and tradition – the most important Jewish spiritual care resources.”
Ellen has volunteered and served on leadership boards for numerous organizations including the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and the National Council of Jewish Women. She said the dedication of JFS’ staff to the community makes her proud to be a volunteer with the organization.
“The care for the people in the community is truly there, and they want to do what’s best for the Jewish community no matter where they are in life,” Ellen said.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact the JFS Volunteer Engagement Team at (913) 730-1410 or firstname.lastname@example.org.