Meet Karen Singer

Karen Singer never anticipated that her “aha” moment

– the instant that she realized what she wanted to tackle during her next phase in life – would come to her in a flash the day she found herself dressed head to toe in pink, rolling around the floor with a group of young girls.

It all began with a princess party that Karen had organized with Susan Maneken, as part of a volunteer project for The Associated’s Chapter Two program. The “princesses” were young girls invited by the Jewish Caring Network, whose family members might be battling significant illnesses, and The Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital, who might be suffering from intense pain. As Karen engaged with them, hugged them and laughed with them, she realized what was missing from her life.

“Over the years, I had served on boards and solicited funds,” says Karen. “Yet I realized then that what I wanted was to add hands-on volunteering to my civic life. Thankfully, for me, The Associated took notice.”

Karen was asked to join the board of Jewish Volunteer Connection and co-chair JVC’s Adult Volunteer Engagement Committee with Susan. Concurrently, as she turned 50 and was about to become an empty nester, she turned her passion into action, launching “Something Good,” a weekend hands-on volunteer initiative that became a JVC VolunTeam. The group of individuals would do “something good” on a monthly basis, with Karen planning about 15 activities each year.

Since its inception, “Something Good” has grown to a team of 470 volunteers. They’ve gathered for “Brunch with a Purpose” at Karen’s home to make polar fleece blankets for the patients of Kennedy Krieger Institute and dialysis patients, served meals to the homeless and assisted the elderly, making their homes ready for spring, to name a few. And this year, Karen undertook her latest success, “Shopping for Something Good,” conceived during her Passover visit to Pittsburgh. When walking with her sister, the two ended up in a consignment shop.

“I remember standing there and thinking about the clothes in my closet and how I could sell them to benefit charity,” she recalls. “So, I thought, why not collect new and gently-used men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, shoes and housewares, invite people over to shop and raise money for a good cause.”

The proceeds from “Shopping for Something Good” were designated to three charities, including JVC. And the items that were not purchased were donated to CHANA and the Center for Urban Families and Art with a Heart.

When speaking about this VolunTeam, Karen lauds the professionals at JVC for helping her make this program even more successful.

“Erica Bloom, assistant director of JVC, has been a sounding board to me. I had plenty of ideas, yet she helped me flesh them out, keep track of the volunteer activities and even held our VolunTeam accountable.”

Karen is no stranger to volunteering. As a young child, she watched her mother, Linda Miller, then president of HIAS, a nonprofit which resettled many Jews from the former Soviet Union, acclimate Russian Jews as they arrived in Baltimore. She recalled sitting around the Shabbat table with the new immigrants, talking about a number of topics, even the basics like teaching them about American money.

As she grew into a young adult, her life filled with full-time work as an attorney, marriage to John, and mother of two children, she made a point to be involved. She participated, and then chaired, The Associated’s Young Leadership program and also volunteered with other organizations, including Art with a Heart and the Esophageal Cancer Network.

Now that her children are grown, Karen has taken on the responsibility as chair of JVC and she is determined to make JVC a household name in the Jewish community.

“JVC is an incredible matchmaking resource” she says, “and I want to make service meaningful to as many people as possible. One person may love to read to kids, another may want to work at a soup kitchen, a third might have recently retired from 30 years of teaching and not know how to fill their time. JVC can offer so many ways to add meaning.” At the same time, Karen hopes community members who want to infuse service into their work life turn to JVC, which can offer the creativity and bandwidth to make service in the workplace a success.

“Everyone puts their energies into their priorities,” says Karen. “My priority is to help others.”

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