How to Get Started Giving Back: A Conversation with Cindy Zitelman, JWRP Board President
For 15 years, Cindy Zitelman ran her own marketing and corporate gifts company and, together with her husband, raised three children. Then, she discovered the world of volunteering, and dove in — first as a daily volunteer, then as a board member and president, and finally as a co-founder. As one of the “Utah 8,” Cindy helped launch the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project while her children were still living at home. Today, Cindy is the President of the JWRP Board, and also serves on the board of multiple other Jewish organizations.
In this interview, Cindy shares how busy women can dedicate time and energy to volunteer projects, tips for making small but meaningful financial contributions to causes, and when it makes sense to start an organization from scratch.
What first inspired your volunteerism?
My children. During high school, they needed to fulfill a certain number of community service hours, and two of my daughters decided that they wanted to do that in Israel. We all stayed in an apartment in Beit Shemesh that was reserved for volunteers, and they volunteered at an after-school program for disadvantaged children. I volunteered at a local library, and my oldest daughter volunteered as a paramedic with Magen David Adom in Haifa.
It was a life-changing experience. All of my adult life, I owned my own business and never really made time to volunteer. But, there is so much need in the world. Volunteering took me out of my own bubble, and showed me how much of a difference it could make to a community.
What advice can you give to women who want to start volunteering?
You need to feel passionate about the volunteer work, because if you believe in the work and enjoy being surrounded by like-minded people, you’ll make it work. The hardest part of volunteering is taking the first step. But don’t be afraid to do it! Sometimes you need to pick up the phone and say, “I don’t know what I can do, but I’d love to volunteer with your organization.”
How would you respond to a woman who wants to volunteer, but finds it difficult to do so between family and work commitments?
The truth is, it’s never easy. If you’re fortunate enough to have a partner who can help you, then you can do things in the evenings when your kids are asleep. You can also volunteer with your children, once they’re old enough. When my kids were toddlers, we participated in our Jewish Federation’s Mitzvah Day, and made cards for children at a local hospital. They decorated the cards with stamps and glue, and I wrote the messages.
How can women get involved in volunteer projects in Israel?
Many Israeli organizations have international representatives or offices that you can contact. But, with the internet, that isn’t always even necessary. You can contact an organization and find out what its needs are. For example, before one of our trips to Israel, my family learned that the community center in Beit Shemesh needed basketballs and soccer balls. The organization, Level The Playing Field, supplied them, and then we transported them to Beit Shemesh.
How can women make financial contributions that are small but meaningful?
I recommend starting a friendraising campaign, where you give a certain amount, and then ask your friends to match that amount. You’ll be amazed to see how quickly the donations grow. Also, when you show that you’re giving, you open the door for people to positively respond.
What are some helpful ways to make non-financial contributions to an organization?
It depends on the organization, but oftentimes, small organizations are always looking for talent — whether that means designing its website, offering legal assistance, or something else. When we first launched the JWRP, we were blessed to have so many professionals contribute their professional time pro bono.
When does it make sense to start an organization or a volunteer effort from scratch?
If you see an immediate need and think that you have the time to dedicate to the cause, then you may consider starting your own venture. It won’t be easy, but starting an organization with other people who have different strengths and are equally dedicated to the cause can make it a lot more doable.