Arlene Margolese first came to Reena when she answered an ad for a Volunteer Coordinator position. She got the job and spent the next 26 years designing and building a robust volunteer program and spearheading many other projects for Reena. “When I was hired, I found out that there were literally no volunteers at Reena other than fundraising volunteers,” says Arlene. “This was a great challenge for me but gave me the opportunity to organize and grow the volunteer department from the ground up. And like a well-tended garden, the program blossomed.”
Arlene needed to get the word out that spending time with individuals with developmental disabilities was fun and rewarding. While there were many people who wanted to give back to society through volunteering, at that time, supporting people with developmental disabilities was pretty much unknown, still “foreign territory” for most and, therefore, not easy to recruit people for. Margolese developed advertising material and began speaking at volunteer fairs. “I went to any group who would have me – organizations, schools, women and men ‘s clubs, synagogues, churches, etc., posturing on the incredible experience and new perspective volunteering at Reena would imprint on your very soul…and it worked!”
Reena’s volunteer program exploded. Arlene created numerous programs with ‘catchy’ names like Pal-unteers (one-on-one friendship), Home Buddies (visiting a specific group home weekly), Family Friends (having an individual over to your family home weekly to develop a relationship with the whole family), Shopping volunteers (for individuals who found it difficult to get out), Passover volunteers (asking community members to host an individual at their home family Seder), Day Program and Outreach volunteers. Arlene also began reaching out to Jewish organizations and synagogues clubs, encouraging them to sponsor a Bar or Bat-mitzvah program since so many Reena individuals never had the opportunity to experience or celebrate this Jewish traditional milestone. “These celebrations were especially meaningful and an uplifting emotional experience for the participants, their families, guests, and volunteer sponsors,” says Arlene.
Eventually Arlene became Manager of Volunteer Services and when there was a need for a spiritual advisor, she stepped up, taking over as Manager of Faith & Cultural Services. “As a Jewish agency, I loved helping our individuals develop their knowledge base and pride in their faith, culture and heritage and in teaching staff about Judaism,” says Arlene who created the curriculum for a number of Reena courses including Judaic Training, Grief & Bereavement, Faith & Culture. Arlene was also responsible for organizing trips to Israel for Reena individuals, first joining the Jewish National Fund (JNF) group and later through Birthright Israel.
If that wasn’t enough, Arlene says, at one time, she noticed the Gift Shop was floundering, so she approached Sandy Keshen and asked her to let her take over the store. Her reply was that Arlene was busy enough with her double duties, stating that she wouldn’t have the time. Arlene persisted and eventually took the Gift Shop over, turning it back into a successful endeavor. “I had the most phenomenal, forward-thinking boss in Sandy Keshen,” says Arlene. “Sandy was a true visionary with incredible ideas and leadership abilities. She allowed us to grow, giving us opportunities to develop skills we never knew we possessed. She was my leader and my mentor.”
Arlene Margolese worked for Reena for 26 years, first under the supervision of Sandy Keshen and then Bryan Keshen who she says was also always there for her with an approachable attitude and a guiding hand. “Working may not be the accurate word to describe my life at Reena because Reena was such a huge part of my life. I love everything about Reena – the individuals, the staff, the camaraderie. You could say that we may leave Reena, but Reena will never leave us.”