Sara Robinson has volunteered for Chavurat Shalom since its inception in 2004; and while she recently reduced her level of activity, she still participates regularly. The participants are a huge influence on her life: “They’re like my family,” she said.
The 67-year-old has spent her entire adult life working with young children and senior adults. She was a teacher in Detroit, Tempe, AZ, and Louisville before retiring in 2001 from the Jefferson County Public Schools. After she retired, she began working at Four Courts, which was then a Jewish retirement home where she had volunteered several years prior.
Rabbi Nadia Siritsky, who was then at The Temple, was directing Chavurat Shalom and asked Robinson to play piano once a month for the program, and she agreed. One day, she gave the rabbi an idea for a program. Siritsky liked it, and asked her to take over programming, knowing she loved working with seniors.
When Siritsky left in 2008, Robinson worked closely with the next director, Cindy Hytken, and helped her run the program. During that time, additional support from sponsors enabled them to lower the cost for lunch, and the pair focused on bringing interesting programs to the group. They saw their numbers blossom.
The connections she made volunteering at other agencies helped Robinson recruit speakers for Chavurat Shalom. She has arranged for Cantor Sharon Hordes of Keneseth Israel to sing from her new album, Mi Coraçon Sospira; Cantor David Lipp has performed and she even brought in John Leffert and Lenae Price from CenterStage to do a preview of the new season.
She volunteers for the University of Louisville’s music school and gets tickets to shows to give away as door prizes. She’s even gotten Dr. Clifford Kuhn, the Laugh Doctor, to speak.
Robinson also volunteers at Bridgehaven Mental Health Services and with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and has brought speakers from there to Chavurat Shalom. She has also taken Chavurat Shalom participants on trips, including a lunch at Bridgehaven.
“A lot of my interests, I’ve been able to connect with Chavurat Shalom,” Robinson said. “I’m really outgoing, I love people and I like to talk.” She loves children, too. From the end of 2014 through last August, Robinson worked with Yonatan Yussman at Keneseth Israel at the Family Shabbat, during which she was responsible for arts and crafts, story time and music activities.
She also taught at an arts camp at the JCC, where she connected with children whose great-grandparents she knew at Four Courts. She would take the art work and put it up in their great-grandparents’ rooms and encourage the parents to take the aspiring artists for visits.
“It’s l’dor v’dor – generation to generation, and I truly believe in that,” Robinson said.
Recently, Robinson was awarded the Pinnacle Award from The Temple for filling in at Chavurat Shalom as a volunteer when there was no director. She was asked to come to the board meeting and to dress nice. She was told, “Don’t worry, it’s a good thing.”
She is also fluent in Spanish and has worked as an interpreter for Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.
As a professional pianist, she plays around town at different events year ’round. She’s already accepted bookings for several events for the Chanukah and Christmas seasons. “I don’t mind working on Christmas because I’m Jewish,” she said. “Why shouldn’t residents who are sick and dying have their Christmas music?” She has even played twice for Gov. Steve Beshear and former Mayor Jerry Abramson. “The hardest thing I had to do was play and not talk!”
Robinson enjoys connecting with people through her volunteer work, no matter where it is, but she has made the most connections through Chavurat Shalom.
“Chavurat Shalom is only about the people who attend,” she said. “It means circle of friends, and that is what I’ve formed for myself with these amazing, active seniors. I’ve learned so much from the people there. They are a walking, talking history book, plus funny, caring, warm and loving.”
Robinson got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University. She is a member of The Temple and an associate member of Keneseth Israel. Her daughter and son-in-law, Nina and Mike Rozensher, live in Boston.