Volunteer Spotlight December 2021: Harry Engel

Harry Engel, pictured with his wife, Sari, and their grandchildren, Harper, Oliver and Livienne.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am an almost-forever resident of Minnesota having arrived here as a 3-year-old along with my twin brother, Randy, and our parents. My parents (of blessed memory) were Czechoslovakian Jews who were caught up in the Holocaust, but survived (most of our family did not), lived in a German refugee camp for several years and finally made it to the United States in 1948. We lived for a while with relatives in New York City, but economic opportunity led our family to move to Minneapolis where we have been ever since. My parents had many obstacles to overcome as immigrants, but gave time to their synagogue, Tifereth B’nai Jacob (among other organizations). Maybe that is where I learned to want to help others without thinking of any monetary benefit.

I am a caregiver with Home Instead. I have volunteered for a variety of organizations in the past and continue to do so now, especially with JFCS. I am active with my synagogue, Adath Jeshuran, and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, raising funds for both. I also volunteer for FG4K (Free Bikes for Kids), which supplies new and refurbished bicycles as holiday presents for children in the Twin Cities whose parent(s) can’t afford to buy bicycles.

What JFCS programs do you volunteer with and what motivated you to become a volunteer?

I have been a Hag Sameach (Happy Holidays) volunteer for a number of years, where I wrap gifts, deliver them to individuals and families in the community, and assist with projects that pop up in the warehouse. I appreciate the friendliness, motivation, expertise and professionalism of the Hag Sameach staff and volunteers, and the friendliness and stated gratitude of the gift recipients that I meet.

The volunteer jobs are made easy because the staff and volunteers are very well organized – from procuring gifts from vendors; to determining who should be a recipient; having expert volunteers wrap the gifts and assemble delivery bags; receiving email reminders about delivery information and gifts that are clearly labeled with recipient info; and calls being placed to recipients so they know when we are to arrive. When I deliver the gifts, the recipients all express gratitude for having an organization like JFCS think of them and care about them by helping them celebrate Chanukah.

I recently became a volunteer with JFCS’ Quick Fix program and was able to help a Senior Services client set up his new TV. I became a volunteer with this program because I like the program’s vision of assisting clients who have difficulties maintaining their homes, whether they live in a single-family home or a multi-home building. Many people may not have family, friends or neighbors who can help them in this regard. With many years of homeownership under my belt, I may be able to provide the knowledge and skills to take care of such maintenance problems. I look forward to doing more projects in the years to come!

What’s your favorite part about volunteering with JFCS?

Working with individuals and families in order to let them know there are others who care about them and are willing to lend a hand. Community members helping other community members is what it’s all about! 

What would you say to someone who’s thinking of volunteering with JFCS? 

I would suggest that they think about how they can help others. I would say, “You and everyone you know, no doubt, has been lent a helping hand towards success and happiness…from a family member, a teacher, a neighbor, a friend or a total stranger. If you think for a minute, you will acknowledge that this statement is true. Why not give back for the help you received by paying it forward to others? Why not try a volunteer project at the JFCS, where there are many programs and many clients willing to take your help? Trying out a project will help you determine if it is right one for you. Volunteering will do your heart good!”

For more information about volunteer services at JFCS, contact Dana Shapiro, Community & Volunteer Engagement Manager, at dshapiro@jfcsmpls.org or 952-417-2112 or click here.