Why I volunteer: Creating a safe place for individuals to address their social service needs

David Leader

Editor’s note: As part of Xpress’ Spring Nonprofit Issue, we asked residents to send in accounts of their volunteer work with local nonprofits. See all 12 responses in this week’s print edition. 

David S. Leader is a volunteer at Jewish Family Services of Western North Carolina, an organization that provides clinical and social support services to adults of all faiths, with special emphasis on the needs of older adults.

Xpress: When and why did you begin volunteering for Jewish Family Services of Western North Carolina? 

Leader: I first began to volunteer at JFS WNC in 2015 as a member of its program committee. I served on a team which included former behavioral health providers and administrators, and which had the purpose of providing oversight and guidance to the clinical counseling services provided by the agency. The clinical counseling services then were a relatively newer service line of JFS, which had the mission of providing social support services to those in need, regardless of race, religion and sexual orientation. Clinical counseling services sought to improve the lives of individuals, especially in traditionally underserved populations through the recognition, facilitation and optimization of each individual’s coping style and abilities.

What do you do at the nonprofit and what keeps you returning to the volunteer position? 

During my time with JFS, I have served in the following roles: committee member and current chairperson of the program committee, member of the strategic planning committee, board member, vice president at large, board secretary (current) and executive director search committee (co-chair and chair). I have reviewed and worked with the clinical director on updating and optimizing policies for clinical services and provided higher-level supervisory services on an as-needed basis. I continue to serve with commitment and passion because I recognize the talents, passion and professionalism of the staff and volunteers, and the positive impact which they are making on the lives of those we serve and on our community.

What do you wish you’d known prior to starting?

I joined JFS soon after retirement from clinical and administrative practice and relocation to the area. One of the things that I did not understand or recognize was how many different subpopulations in WNC feel underrecognized and underrepresented in the therapeutic community. JFS has taught me that this agency can and does provide a safe place for individuals to address their social service needs. This occurs through clinical counseling, social support, provision of respite care for vulnerable seniors, case management, pastoral care and a small food pantry.

What do you tell folks who are interested in volunteering but have yet to commit?

I used to joke that JFS was one of the Asheville area’s better-kept secrets. That is not an enviable place to be if your mission is to serve the community! Michael Barnett, our executive director, has worked diligently with our other passionate supporters and staff to spread the word about us through open houses, community talks, fostering partnerships with the area’s business communities and forging collaborative efforts with other area not-for-profits. This agency could not be what it has been and continues to be without our incredibly wonderful volunteers, who bring so much to our support programs.

For those who want to find a meaningful volunteer experience, this is a great place to consider. Michael will be most welcoming and happy to give you more information about the many ways in which your passion and talents may be put to great use. Depending on when you tour the facility, you might even be treated to a wonderful lunch treat created by our fabulous chef, Rachel Miriam.


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