This is my third summer volunteering at ENOSH, a social club for English-speaking adults who are mental health consumers. In previous summers, I volunteered through Skilled Volunteers for Israel at Melabev, an adult day center, working with people with dementia, and Merkaz Klass, a community center for at-risk children, tutoring low-income Ethiopian and Russian children. I enjoyed both of those volunteer “gigs”. But when Terry Hendin said she had yet another program that needed a volunteer, I said I’d do it — and I’ve been at ENOSH ever since.
It may be the stigma that many of us have about “people with mental illness” might make this volunteer position more challenging to fill than some others. And some might think that as a volunteer on vacation, I might want to try something new and different each summer. But for me, my time at ENOSH continues to be a joy as well as a learning experience, something I look forward to every time I’m in Israel.
People often ask me what I do there as a volunteer, especially as in my “real life” I’m not a trained therapist or a social worker. First, of all, the Enosh social club is not a therapy group. If people receive therapy, they go elsewhere for it. This Enosh program is a club where people of various ages, from their twenties to their sixties, and across the religious spectrum, come two afternoons each week to socialize.
We start with the daily “check in” where everyone, staff, volunteers, club members, sits around in a circle and literally, checks in, sharing how things are going. This summer, staff have been posing a question — sometimes a funny question, sometimes a thought-provoking one — at each check-in session. For example, a recent question was: “what one positive thing have you learned about yourself since becoming an adult?” People gave that question a lot of thought—it was a tough one for all of us to answer — but it was interesting to hear the answers. I’ve been mulling about the responses since the session.
Then there are activities every day, planned by the club members. Sometimes it’s a workshop, conducted by a staff member or a volunteer or a club member or an invited guest. For example, last week, we had “Cafe Canada” where two of the club members who had made aliyah from Canada played Canadian music (who knew?), ate Canadian food (the pancakes and maple syrup were very popular) and gave us all an entertaining but surprisingly tough quiz about Canada. Sometimes there is an outing to a museum or other site in the city. At each session, there’s food to eat, purchased and prepared by club members, and clean-up is handled by them, too.
And there’s always conversation with club members, volunteers and staff. Because this is why ENOSH was created, to provide people a place to socialize.
When I reminded members that this is my last week this summer, members responded saying, “What? So soon?!” “Can’t you stay longer?” I was really touched by the club members’ responses. I told them I’d already discussed it with my husband and next summer, we are staying longer, and I’m coming back to ENOSH.