Riverdale—What do an 11-year-old boy who loves baseball, an elderly lady who lives alone and an infant whose mother needs necessities for her baby all have in common? They are among the many thousands of people served by the Bronx Jewish Community Council’s (BJCC) volunteer program under the auspices of Niti Minkove.
But Minkove is more than just the Director of Volunteers at the BJCC. Indeed, she is one of its driving forces, and each day, she seeks to help those of any age who are less fortunate, struggling or who are in need of the basic necessities for an enhanced quality of life. Her deep enthusiasm and far-reaching compassion make her the perfect candidate for the job and ensure that things run not only smoothly, but joyfully as well.
Minkove was always enthusiastic about doing chesed, and this, she said, has been the hallmark of her entire volunteer and professional career. She believes that not only did her day school and Stern College education further her drive towards helping others, but that the strong tradition in her family to serve their communities influenced her, as well. This desire to do chesed, she said, dates back to the time of her grandparents’ arrival in America in the early 1900s.
Minkove has, she said, served the nonprofit community for her entire career, both in professional and volunteer capacities. “My last four positions before leaving Cincinnati included public relations at the Cincinnati Zoo, a position as assistant Locations Producer for a network TV show, Volunteer Coordinator for the JCC, Director of the Cincinnati office of the JNF, and [I] have been active in Jewish communal life for the past 40-plus years,” Minkove said.
Not much of a surprise, then, that when she moved here—17 years ago from Cincinnati to Riverdale, where her children were already residing—she immediately volunteered to assist the Director of the Riverdale Jewish Council in coordinating the RJCC Annual Legislative Breakfast. From there, contact with the BJCC’s Executive Vice President, Brad Silver, led to an unsolicited referral, whereby she became the BJCC’s first Director of Volunteers.
Each day, there is something new to do, which is what Minkove loves most about her work. From brainstorming with individuals and groups about which new programs to create, to hosting intergenerational and holiday activities, to organizing food collections, museum trips, holiday parties, activities and beyond, she also collaborates with dedicated volunteers from schools and organizations such as the JCC and the UJA.
Minkove’s main contact with clients is made through the offices of the agency’s social service professionals, but she said, “on many occasions I find myself escorting our volunteers to face-to-face encounters while friendly visiting, working at the food bank, at parties and as the facilitator for many of our holiday and intellectual programs.” While her job is never done, her enthusiasm is readily contagious. She is particularly inspired in her work by anything that makes someone smile or assures an elderly or isolated individual that someone truly cares. In fact, she has come to be known as “The Joymaker” within her agency, a particularly fitting moniker for her, as she tries, she said, “to direct much of my work towards this goal every day. This refers to both my volunteers and my clients, [as] it does not work unless everyone is finding the program satisfying.”
There is nothing that Minkove finds unsatisfactory about her job. She said, however, that since the BJCC has the wonderful reputation of never saying “no” to anyone, but is intent, rather, on finding a way to get things done, it breaks her heart when even more cannot be done or when the Food Pantry shelves are empty, for example. Although she admits that more financial backing would be nice, she is proud that she works with a wonderful team of “completely dedicated professionals…[who] do our work with the kind of dedication which usually leads to a sense of satisfaction.”
While the original mission of the BJCC involved only the Jewish community, Minkove said that they now serve anyone in need, serving both kosher and non-kosher food, as well as being partners in two naturally occurring retirement communities (NORC). Still, the BJCC is as dedicated to serving the Jewish community as it ever was and now has 7,000 clients. The BJCC also works with “many bar and bat mitzvahs, schools and congregations to offer chesed projects throughout the year.” Minkove’s job in all of this is to “recruit, plan activities for and manage these close to 3,000 volunteers.”
There are many examples of volunteerism success that Minkove provided. Among them, for example, is Ben, who loves baseball, and who, for his bar mitzvah, worked as a volunteer for the BJCC. For months in the pre-season, he worked with an 11-year-old who had no one to practice with. Ben then treated the boy to cleats and offered him ongoing support during the next baseball season. Another example is a young mother who provided a car seat and diapers for another mother with a baby of the same age. There is also a volunteer and her sister-in-law who visited an elderly lady every week from the time “she was 92 until well past her 100th birthday, bringing her to their homes” for holiday celebrations and making her birthday parties.
Minkove is always thrilled when someone wants to volunteer and there are no rules in terms of volunteering, she said. It’s a job she treasures, and she is happy to help volunteers expand their roles, too. “We just…encourage others to come forward—we promise to keep them satisfied,” she said. Through school groups, holiday events or Project Hope—an event in which volunteers deliver food packages to low-income and isolated older adults—such experiences are often the entry point for volunteers in terms of wanting to return to help out.
By Bracha K. Sharp