Joy given and received through volunteering

Photo: Courtesy Molly Pluss
Photo: Courtesy Molly Pluss
Molly Pluss treasures the time she spends volunteering for Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship riding center. For years, Pluss has been one of many volunteers, ages 12-80, who have provided more than 30,000 hours of support — many of those directed through Jewish Family Service’s Mitzvah Central.


By Deb Silverthorn

Twenty years and tens of thousands of volunteer hours ago, Barbara Schwarz created Jewish Family Service’s first Youth Mitzvah Central, then just six pages and 17 agencies looking for help. Renamed Mitzvah Central in 2006, with opportunities for all ages, the support via JFS’ publication is stronger than ever, now 73 pages and 104 agencies in all.
“Barbara is an amazing volunteer, and she has helped propel JFS’ reputation of great opportunities for fulfilling mitzvot because of what she’s built and what she continues to update,” JFS CEO Steve Banta said. “The halls of the associated agencies are full of our referrals.”
A New York native who was married to her beloved Harry, of blessed memory, Schwarz brought to JFS her years of working with the New York City Department of Aging and experience and dedication as a volunteer at the Jewish Braille Institute since high school. Schwarz has always set an example for her children, Jessica and Marc.
Honored in February with JFS’ Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, Schwarz is a member of Congregation Anshai Torah who transplanted to Dallas in 1997 to be closer to daughter Jessica Schwarz-Zik, son-in-law Brian and her grandchildren, Jodi and Michael.
Spurred on by her grandchildren’s requirements as Solomon Schechter Academy (now Ann and Nate Levine Academy) students to fulfill mitzvah hours, Schwarz wanted to help find opportunities for pre-teens. She made it her project, and passion, to find programs for pre-teens, teens and those who remain teens at heart.
“I worked with Janine Pulman (JFS’ former director of volunteers) and Michael Fleischer (JFS’ former CEO) and Jackie Waldman, bringing leaders in the community together,” said Schwarz, who still coordinates the listings, now working with Jamie Denison, JFS’ community engagement manager.
The most recent listings posted to JFS’ website are sent to schools, organizations, synagogues, youth ministries, registered volunteers and agencies throughout the community. “We’ve done the research, we save you the time,” said Schwarz. “It couldn’t be easier for people to find a place to find meaning and make a difference — once, once in a while or on a regular basis.”
Visitors to JFS’ Mitzvah Central — — will find listings with contact information, links to websites and information about each organization and the volunteer opportunities available. Listings also provide details about whether the positions are ongoing, single-time service and age or other requirements, when necessary.
JFS uses the listings internally as well. It makes recommendations to its clientele in many areas, many working through the Career Resource Center making connections. Printed copies of the listings are produced in the winter/spring, summer and fall, and are available at JFS.
Ellie Grant, director of volunteer services at Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship doesn’t always know where her volunteers come from, but knows the trail of many leads back to JFS and Schwarz’ efforts.
“We have volunteers from 12 to 80 years of age, and they come and make this place happen. We absolutely could not do what we do without them,” Grant said. “We count more than 30,000 hours, many more that volunteers have provided to us from JFS and other sources and that literally is worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars if we had to pay for that time.”
Rain or shine, Grant says Equest’s volunteers prep horses for classes, lead them, assist in the arena, hand out medals and more. “It can be 25 or 105 degrees and Dallas’ volunteer community remains invested,” she said. “That people still answer our need, shows how people respect what we do and how we’ve penetrated the community.”
Equest is just one of the more than 100 agencies available, truly with something, more likely many things, for everyone. A number of the original postings, such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Resource Center, still welcome helping hands two decades later.
“We could not do what we do on a daily basis without the dedicated and consistent service of our volunteers, well over 1,000 of them in 2017 alone, and many from Mitzvah Central over the years. Each one is one is a vital part of our team,” said Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager at The Resource Center, which serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of North Texas, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS primarily in Dallas County.
“Running this program is a mitzvah in and of itself,” Banta said, “and Barbara is indeed its gift and anchor.”
For the legions putting time into the community, Schwarz says, “you give, and you get. Volunteering is always a gift in both directions.”
For more information, visit or call 972-437-9950.

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