Baltimore’s Terry Willner is Doing Good in Baltimore

As a native Baltimorean, Terry Willner has always felt connected to her hometown. Like many of her friends, she never ventured far for too long – attending Emory University in Atlanta and then moving back to Baltimore after graduation.

It is this love for Baltimore and the conviction to make a difference that inspired this mother of two sons, Alex and Evan, to give back. She began volunteering through The Associated’s Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), and now serves as chair. This year, she’s particularly excited about JVC’s newest project which she believes will inspire thousands to do good. She talks about this effort and reveals why Baltimore is so dear to her heart.

Why JVC?

I learned about JVC while participating in Chapter Two (a 10-month program of Associated Women where you learn about the community). That program introduced me to the different agencies of The Associated and I discovered that I loved the work and mission of JVC – the idea that everyone is able to contribute and make a difference.

How did you get involved?

I first participated in JVC’s days of service – Mitzvah Day, Good Deeds Day, and others. When Karen Singer asked me to join her Something Good VolunTeam, I said yes. With this group, I’ve volunteered at various organizations around Baltimore. I’ve done everything from serving meals at Our Daily Bread to making mosaics at Art with a Heart.  That led to my being asked to serve on the JVC board.

Any volunteer experience that really impacted you?

 I remember serving a meal at the Helping Up Mission, an addiction treatment center in Baltimore City with my husband and son. Here were men in recovery; some from our community. These were people who could be our family members or our neighbors who just happened to fall on hard times. It wasn’t just the importance of serving the meal, but talking to the men and listening to them as well.

What’s new with JVC?

We’ve worked very hard to incorporate a learning component into our Live With Purpose projects. We provide discussion points that help you think about what you are doing through both a Jewish and secular lens. For example, when you make a casserole for our Live with Purpose Casserole Challenge, questions include ‘Why is it important to make sure that people have enough healthy food to eat?’ or ‘In what ways does your casserole help solve local food insecurity? In what ways is it deficient?’

I hear JVC is set to launch an exciting new project.

It’s our 100,000 Acts of Service Challenge, which is part of The Associated’s Centennial year.  We are launching a community-wide effort, engaging the Baltimore Jewish community to participate in and log 100,000 individual acts of volunteer and leadership service throughout the year. Whenever you do an act of service, we want you to record it by going to
It’s easy. I don’t think we realize how many ways we are helping out each day.

Such as?

When you go into your child’s school to help out or attend a PTA meeting you are volunteering. When you make a casserole or bring a prepared meal to a homeless shelter, you are doing an act of service. JVC offers Live with Purpose projects which you can do in your home.Or, you can join one of JVC’s VolunTeams, such as Bookworms and read in the schools. If everybody is doing something — 100,000 acts later – it is pretty impactful.  Our ultimate goal is to motivate our community to continue to find ways to integrate service into their lives long after the challenge ends.

You’ve lived here most of your life. What is it about Baltimore?

For better or worse, it’s not called ‘Smalltimore’ for nothing. Being from here, I think Baltimore is a warm community where we help each other out. It’s nice knowing people. When Karen asked me to get involved in JVC, of course I said yes. Hopefully when I ask people, they’ll also say yes. My husband is from Rockville and it’s a completely different community. And he always says we can’t go anywhere without you knowing someone.

Anything you learned from your mother?

My father died right before I was to go off to college and I remember I wanted to stay behind with her. She told me that my father would want me to go. Watching her during this difficult time made me realize how strong she was. She taught me to be independent. I hope I’ve raised my sons that way.

Advice to your sons?

To be independent and give back. When I look at them, I see my mother’s strength.  

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