That began years ago as a volunteer job for Teaneck resident Eillene C. Leistner recently became what Leistner, now associate executive director of development at Dorot, described as a "joy" and what Vivian Fenster Ehrlich, executive director of the organization, called an "extraordinary match."
Leistner who has worked for many years with organizations supporting the arts, social services, and Israel, and who has ‘5 years of development experience under her belt is now turning her "personal commitment" to enhance the lives of seniors into a profession, filling a newly placed position with an agency whose programs and services help the elderly to maintain their independence.
"Working with seniors has enriched my own life," said Leistner. "I appreciate the knowledge, care, and perception of the world that they bring. There’s always something to be learned."
A former volunteer herself, she said she is excited by the opportunity to further the mission of Dorot, which "provides food, companionship, exercise, intellectual stimulation, and cultural enrichment to thousands of seniors each year."
"Dorot is unique," she said. "It combines the efforts of volunteers and professionals who reach out to the elderly and keep them connected to the community." According to Leistner, Dorot, started in 1976 by "a group of young people" on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, now has 10,000 volunteers of all ages, ranging from children who make birthday cards for seniors to senior citizens themselves, who work in the office doing administrative tasks. The organization serves about 9,000 seniors.
The people who started Dorot "recognized how easy it is for the elderly to become isolated," said Leistner, a former group worker for the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged.
A member of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom, where she served as a board member, Leistner said her synagogue is concerned about the elderly and each year, working together with Project Ezra an independent, non-profit organization that serves the frail elderly on New York’s Lower East Side buses seniors to the synagogue for a day of "singing and schmoozing" as well as a large meal. In addition, she said, many congregants volunteer with the local Jewish Family Service and bring meals to homebound seniors.
Leistner, who has co-chaired the Teaneck Holocaust commemoration for several years, pointed out that while Dorot is centered in New York, it has several programs that reach out to New Jersey residents as well. The group’s "University without Walls," a telephone educational program for the elderly, disabled, or those who have difficulty getting around outside of their homes, enables seniors to take classes and to participate in Jewish holiday services.
Dorot calls students at home when it is time for class and connects them to the instructor and other class members via a telephone conference call. Because the 50-minute session is interactive, students can ask questions and voice their opinions during the class.
Dorot has also teamed up with the Greater New Jersey Chapter of the National MS Society, based in Paramus, to offer separate telephone support groups to MS patients and their caregivers.
Dealing with the elderly is a fulfilling experience, Leistner said. "People working with seniors [should] be respectful of their years of experience and be understanding and caring." But in addition, she noted, "they should be willing to connect."
For further information about Dorot, call ‘1’-769-‘850 or e-mail info@Dorotusa.org.