Meet our Volunteer in the Spotlight: Esther Joy Schwartz

Occupation: Attorney

Hobbies: Music, theatre, Yiddishkeit, healthy cooking and eating, working out, and creative writing and making puzzles.

Esther, who started volunteering in January of this year, is a busy attorney with 40 years of experience and has been playing violin even longer. Up until 2021, Esther played with the USO, University of Chicago Symphony. She also plays guitar and piano. Esther grew up with a strong connection to Yiddish in her home and her father, Selwyn (Shloime) Schwartz, was a Yiddish and English poet. Her love of music, her parents, and her fond memories of her mother at The Selfhelp Home is what drew her in as a volunteer.

After losing her mother last year, Esther’s strong connection to the memory of her parents, her love for Yiddishkeit, Judaism, classical music, and a newfound calling to care for elders drew her back to Selfhelp.

Q&A with Esther

How did you hear about The Selfhelp Home?

When my mom, Renee Schwartz, had a hip replacement years ago, she came to Selfhelp for rehabilitation and then again years later when recovering from the flu. I heard about Selfhelp from being in the Jewish community. As soon as I came to Selfhelp, I saw the wonderful programs and the beautiful facilities and I knew this was the place. I was able to visit any time, and Mom loved the food, the soups, the desserts, and Shabbat. We got to know many of the residents, families, and the staff. It was a home away from home, and I knew she was in good hands.

What inspired you to volunteer?

After Mom passed, there was a void. I needed to be with elderly people who needed me, and I needed them. Mom loved going to the Sunday concerts at Selfhelp, and we always attended together. So, I thought, how else to honor her and fill my empty space but to volunteer for Sunday concerts, bring the residents down to the concerts, and spend time with them? I also volunteer for other special events at Selfhelp.

Describe what you do at Selfhelp…

After Mom died, I made some promises to myself and my family about getting involved to help with my grief. One of the things I decided to do was spend my Sunday afternoons as a volunteer at Selfhelp. I work with the staff to help residents come down for the Sunday concert. I encourage residents to come down, especially some of the naysayers and new residents. During the concert, I keep an eye on them and make sure they are brought back to their floors safely. Sometimes I stay with them for a while and attend coffee klatch and visit with some of the regulars. We talk and get to mingle.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?

I love the residents’ reaction to all the music and performers. I love watching toes tap and smiles on the faces of the residents. Some are quite musical, and they know so much about the music. This is a well-spent 60 minutes to take their minds off their problems or pains. I feel this is a calling, too.

Something new I discovered about myself is that I am good with older people, especially those with dementia. I want to be helpful to those with and without families. It is just as much of a mitzvah to me as it is to the residents. I am so fond of the staff and value how everyone does his/her job and gives so much more.

Coming back to Selfhelp and seeing old familiar faces of staff who took care of my mom was heartwarming and felt uplifting.

What would you tell somebody who wanted to volunteer here?

Many adolescents volunteer because it looks good on resumes for college or do projects as part of a bar and bat mitzvah, but volunteering for the love of volunteering—simply because you want to give back—is rewarding at so many levels. There are weekends when I feel the loss of my mom, especially around the holidays. Coming for Purim or Passover and spending time at Selfhelp makes me less lonely. I cannot think of a better community than Selfhelp. The staff and residents make everyone feel like family.